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Speaking to students too young to remember 9/11, and how lives were changed forever

A forum on Sept. 10 with five whose lives were forever changed by the attacks of 9/11 was a followup to discussions held in classrooms. This summer students in grades 6 through 12 were assigned to read “The Red Bandanna.” The book recounts the story of Welles Crowther, who worked on the 104th Floor of the South Tower and is credited with saving the lives of many that day. He always wore a red bandanna in his pocket, a gift from his father, and when others remembered the day they knew only that their savior had been the man with the red bandanna.

“I witnessed the best and the worst of humanity around me.”

The speaker was Shelter Island Police Sgt. Terrence LeGrady, who was among responders to the World Trade Center in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He was speaking to an audience of Shelter Island students, all of whom knew little except what they’ve read about that day.

Sgt. LeGrady was one of five speakers who shared their memories of the horror they had experienced on 9/11.

“You need to act” and not simply watch when a crisis is unfolding, he said. He acted that day on what started as a rescue mission, but soon became one of recovering bodies from beneath the rubble of Ground Zero.

There were rare moments of celebration when noise beneath the debris revealed a survivor, but thousands perished at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 passengers had crashed that plane to keep it from hitting the Capitol or White House.

“My world came crashing down,” said a young mother at the event, whose husband perished at the World Trade Center. She asked not to be identified, but she spoke of her involvement in fighting for the rights of others like her who feel they haven’t been given justice because there has been no prosecution of those responsible.

She persists in trying to get information from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency officials, but with little response. “I already have peace in my heart,” she said, but would like to better understand why the attacks happened. She has dedicated her efforts to fighting for rights of those who were sickened by working at the site they had been told was safe. Too many of those heroes have perished from their illnesses and others have had to fight for medical benefits. She has also supported others who, like her, lost family members during the attacks. To this day, she said, the effort continues to identify remains so they can be returned to families for memorial services.

Eddie Brennan was on the 26th floor of the North Tower when he felt the building shake and thought it might have been an attack similar to what had happened in 1993 when a bomb exploded in the basement.

He was among the fortunate, able to get out of the building but was unable to reach his family in a time before cellphones were ubiquitous. The only public phone he could find at South Street Seaport had a long line of people waiting. It took a long time for him to reach a phone a distance away where he could finally tell his wife and sons he was safe.

He witnessed others fleeing the building, especially women forced to abandon their shoes in piles of dust and debris and walk barefoot to get out of the area.

“At the moment, there was a feeling of dread,” Mr. Brennan said. He fully expected other iconic sites would be hit that day such as the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge. In response to a student questioner, he said he thought the terrorists chose planes to fly into the Twin Towers because they represented a place where people of all nationalities, skin colors and backgrounds worked; the terrorists were going after the entire world.

“The memories of heroism stay with me,” Mr. Brennan said. He lost a close friend, Eddie Papa, that day and still remains close to his friend’s family.

For a year after the attacks, he said he suffered from post-traumatic stress.

“I feel very far from that day,” he said, while admitting he won’t forgot what he experienced.

The attacks changed the world and the lives of all who participated in the rescue effort, said former Justice Court Judge Helen Rosenblum, a member of Shelter Island’s Emergency Medical Services crew who went to Manhattan on Sept. 11. “It’s hard to speak of without tears, even today,” Ms. Rosenblum said. She recalls the site of many empty stretchers meant to carry survivors but largely empty because so few survived that day.

“It was brutal to be there,” she said. “The dust was so thick, you couldn’t walk,” she said. “It was such a wakeup that this could happen.”

Asked if she thought the terrorists meant to kill thousands, she said she thought they meant to kill more and that the Twin Towers were attacked because it represented the financial power of the United States, and the Pentagon was hit because it represented the country’s military power.

Edward Boyd, an attorney and member of the Southold Fire Department, described himself as “absolutely amazed” by what he and his fellow firefighters witnessed.

On the ride to the city, he got his first glimpse of the gap in the skyline where the Twin Towers had stood.

“It was a terrible shock to see nothing but smoke,” Mr. Boyd said. The scene was “beyond description.” At the site, he described the smell as “indelibly etched” in his memory.

For him, there has been no sense of closure, Mr. Boyd said.