Officials joined yesterday afternoon with the families of many of the county residents who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to remember their lives during Westchester’s annual 9/11 memorial ceremony.
Speakers during the hour-long commemoration at Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla, which included elected officials, clergy and a retired New York City police officer-turned-victims advocate, also recalled the sacrifices of the first responders in the months following the attack and urged everyone to find the unity that Americans shared after the tragedy.
“They were humans just like us and they faced a test we hope we never face,” said County Executive George Latimer of those lost. “My theology teaches us that they’re at peace, it teaches me that they’re in paradise, whatever paradise is. I have to believe that. We can’t believe that the evil that was done that day was the final word. We have to believe that this day of voluntary service is there to change the narrative of 9/11.”
During the ceremony, held under a large tent a short distance from the county’s 9/11 memorial The Rising, officials read each one of the 123 names of Westchester residents lost that day. Family members of first responders who died after falling ill by breathing in the toxins while working at Ground Zero, read the names of those victims.
So far, 21 county residents have been identified as having died from 9/11-related illnesses.
Last year, Latimer revealed that the county was going to commission a memorial to commemorate the Westchester residents who died from those illnesses. Plans for that memorial, which will be placed near The Rising, continue to move forward. A committee was formed earlier this year consisting mainly of family members of victims to help design an appropriate memorial.
Matthew McCauley, a retired New York City cop who worked in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero and is now an attorney fighting on behalf of victims and their families, said the memorial will be a symbol that Westchester will never forget those who sacrificed everything.
He also made 18 trips to Washington along with other former Ground Zero workers to urge Congress to continue funding the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.
“We were all where we wanted to be,” McCauley said. “We were showing the world that we would not back down from terrorism and that we would work together – no races, no color, no politics. I can tell you that was how every 9/11 responder felt on that day and every day after that.”
Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin told the victims’ families that Westchester will always stand with them and honor their loves ones’ memories.
He said a legacy of those lost should be to confront hate and intolerance.
“The attacks of September 11, 2001 changed us,” Boykin said. “They stole our loved ones, stripped us of our innocence, shook our sense of security, and, unfortunately, too often, have made us more suspicious of one another. As we recognize the sacrifice of the first responders and commemorate the lives of those who were taken from us, let us honor them by holding ever tighter to our values.”
Following the ceremony, family members walked over to The Rising, many with flowers they placed by the plaque that contained their loved one’s name while fighting back tears.
Latimer said the 9/11 memorials that have sprung up in communities across the nation are done for a purpose. There will come a time when those who remember Sept. 11, 2001, will no longer be around and it will be up to future generations to keep alive the memory of those who perished.
“We created things that are dramatic, breathtaking even, so that we won’t forget and that we have a visual remembrance of it so when this generation of Americans are gone, the next generation of Americans, the next generation of Westchester people will remember that once there was this moment in time and the people who made this sacrifice in that moment in time,” Latimer said.
Anthony Tyndal, whose brother Niell Tyndal Jr., a Yonkers firefighter, died of a 9/11-related illness two years ago, said he hoped for greater unity in the future.
“Just be together, lets remember that not just one day a year but do it every day of the year,” Tyndal said. “This country and the world shouldn’t be divided.”