HOMETOWN HAPPENINGS: Clarkstown Remembers September 11

With George Hoehmann
Supervisor, Town of Clarkstown

Today, across our county, our state and our country, in towns much like our own, people gather to remember September 11, 2001—one of the most terrible days in the history of our country.

Sixteen years have passed since that day, but none of us will forget where we were or what we witnessed on that fateful day.

I can recall that crisp morning almost by the minute. The unbelievably clear blue sky and fall breeze. Standing at ceremony this morning in Haverstraw was a reminder as it was so similar to that day 16 years ago. The blue sky, crisp breeze and optimism of a new day.

Recalling that morning, 16 years ago, the events unfolded rapid fire with all of us trying to understand what exactly was happening. The news at first spoke of an incident a plane hitting the first tower. We thought it was an accident only to learn minutes later that it wasn’t as planes hit the second tower the Pentagon and Shanksville. I think of all the things I witnessed that day—perhaps one of the most jarring was the sight and sound of two F16 fighter planes circling low over Clarkstown on patrol. I felt an odd sense of safety and at the same time, fear, as sophisticated war planes roared overhead. Those first few days were a blur for everyone. Throughout the days, weeks and months that followed, the pain was ever present. The endless parade of memorials and funerals, and the rivers of tears. The days passed into weeks, the weeks into months and months now hard to believe into 16 years.

September 11th was an attack on our way of life, on our democracy, and on freedom itself. It was evil and pure hatred and an attempt to break our spirit to destroy our faith. But instead, it only broke our hearts.

Sixteen years ago, 2,977 people woke up and went to work in so many ordinary ways. After the attacks began, hundreds of first responders went into those same buildings to save countless lives.

Every body who entered those buildings that September day, and indeed our entire country, were forever changed. Far too many paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for those left behind—an indescribable pain that can still be felt and will never be washed away.

Sixteen years have passed, but it seems like only yesterday.

We recall the thousands who left this earth and were welcomed by the loving embrace of God. While we cannot touch them physically, we realize and understand that they are not really gone and will never be forgotten.

The quote on the monument is from the Book of Wisdom. Its meaning has lasting value and is appropriate to forever commemorate the lives, heroism and witness of those who died on September 11th.

It reads as follows:

“The Souls of the Just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them. They seemed in the view of the foolish to be dead, and there passing away was thought an affliction there going forth from us utter destruction but they are in peace.”

Those words adorn our memorial and indeed are inscribed in our hearts. Today Clarkstown remembers. And we shall never forget.

Every year since that horrible day, we have come together to honor friends, neighbors and loved ones who perished. The more years that go by, the more important it is for us to come together to honor and remember their lives. This ceremony also gives us a chance to express our continued support to their families and to let them know that we are still here, our community is still here, for them.

We recall also the many who are affected by their service on the pile suffering from illness and far too many who have died. Literally the hundreds if not thousands of volunteers, first responders and ordinary citizens who went to serve and became sick and died. We also need to remember the biblical maxim ever so true: “No greater love does one have than this to lay down one’s life for a friend.”

Generations from now, people will pause here and recall what happened that day and afterwards.

What I like to remember from that day is not how 2,977 people died—but how they lived. Each of us are promised two dates in our life: the day we are born and the day we will die. The dash that appears in between these dates is the essence of our lives. The example of courage demonstrated by ordinary people at work facing death is part of that dash, the heroism of first responders and others who tried and successfully saved tens of thousands of lives only to lose their own are all part of that dash. The love given freely to husbands, wives, children, parents and friends by those 2,977 is part of that dash. Today we recall September 11th but really let’s focus on the dash—the lives of the 2,977 people and not so much how they died, but how they lived. Each name here and the love and life that it represents is what we recall and worship.

Their example and the unity of purpose that our country embraced and followed will forever stand the test of time. Today we remember—indeed we will never forget not how 2,977 died but how they lived, loved, laughed and gave us a legacy.

May these brave souls rest in eternal Peace.