Location shifts for annual 9/11 ceremony

p1-memorial-9-4The annual memorial ceremony in Greenwich to mark the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 will have extra resonance this year as it moves to the Glenville Fire House, where a piece of World Trade Center steel is on display.

In previous years the ceremony has taken place at Town Hall, but this year it will move. The piece of steel has been in front of the firehouse for three years now and has become a focal point of remembrance in the community, so event organizers and town officials said they felt the change was appropriate.

As always, the ceremony itself is being put together by the September 11th Remembrance Committee and the Greenwich American Legion Post 29. Chris Hughes, commander of Post 29 and founder of the committee, told the Post that he felt Glenville presented a very appropriate backdrop and said the logistics of it worked better than at Town Hall. He said that despite the change in venue, the ceremony will not change as it continues to honor the memory of the 32 people with Greenwich connections who were killed in the attacks.

Glenville Volunteer Fire Company President Sandy Kornberg worked with Selectman David Theis to push for relocating the ceremony for this year, something that he hopes will become, if not a regular occurrence, then something that happens every few years. Speaking for his fellow volunteers, Mr. Kornberg said he felt it was a responsibility to have the steel brought to Greenwich to serve as a memorial and also as a symbol of the American spirit.

Mr. Kornberg and others were key figures in getting the piece of steel to Glenville. He recalled seeing an article in the New York Times in 2009 about pieces of what are known as “artifact steel” that were part of the Twin Towers being made available. Since the Glenville Fire House was being renovated at the time, Mr. Kornberg said he felt this would make a very fitting addition as a memorial, not just to those in Greenwich who were killed but to all the firefighters and first responders who rushed to the scene and put their lives at risk to help.

So Mr. Kornberg wrote to the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, which was handling the distribution of the artifact steel, and explained the company’s case. Members of the Glenville volunteer company didn’t just stand idly by on the day of the attacks. They were put into service in a staging area in Valhalla, N.Y., to respond if needed, and Mr. Kornberg and four others in the company additionally volunteered to help at Ground Zero in the days following the devastating attacks.

Mr. Kornberg said that was an experience none of them would ever forget, as they were there for duty starting at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 27, 2001, just 16 days after the attacks. Recalling how he and his fellow volunteers were dubbed “the Greenwich boys,” Mr. Kornberg said they were first tasked with bringing key pieces of equipment to a nearby building where the Federal Aviation Authority, FBI and CIA were doing their investigations and were looking for the “black boxes” that were in both planes to get needed flight recorder information. To do this they had to all dress in what is known as “bunker gear” as they would for a full fire response, and they all wore respirators due to the dangerous air quality in the area.

Thinking back to that day, Mr. Kornberg recalled going into the building and finding everything inside it covered in a “grayish white” soot that came from the collapse of the World Trade Center. The building they were in was used for both residential and commercial purposes and Mr. Kornberg said he could see apartments with the doors open and food still on the table from breakfasts that had to be abandoned. Calling it a “staggering sight” Mr. Kornberg said that there were times that reminded everyone of the grim reality of the work they were doing.

“There was a point when everything we were doing stopped and there was no noise at all,” Mr. Kornberg said. “They had found the remains of a firefighter, and it’s things like that which stay with you and remind you how necessary it is to keep the memory of what happened with this day alive… If you saw the site after the attacks you could appreciate the magnitude of the devastation. Everyone who was there to help felt a kindred spirit because this was something that would stay with us forever.”

Mr. Kornberg’s letter began a year of correspondence with the Port Authority that included letters, emails and phone calls. Finally, the Port Authority told him that there was a 1,700-pound piece of steel available and he speculated that they didn’t think there would be any interest in it from Glenville. But they were wrong.

“I told them right away that, ‘We want it’,” Mr. Kornberg said.

To get it meant that the Glenville volunteers would be responsible for moving the large piece, and that meant taking a trip to a hangar at JFK Airport in New York City, a trip that left another strong memory with Mr. Kornberg. He recalled seeing pieces of steel larger than an office in the hangar, including ones that showed the impact points of the planes that hit the towers. That really made clear the significance of the piece, and when the steel was transported from New York to Stamford he first wrapped it in an American flag.

The stay in Stamford was only temporary, and the steel was soon brought to Glenville where it was formally unveiled as part of a special ceremony on Sept. 9, 2011, in time for the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Since then the steel has become a major point of interest in the community as people stop to pay tribute.

“This is something that belongs to us in perpetuity,” Mr. Kornberg said. “What’s so amazing about this is that every year we have people who come and leave flags and other mementos. We get kids’ drawings left there. It’s turned out to be something that everyone in the community has really embraced as a symbol and we’re very proud of it.”

Chief of Police James Heavey was another key figure in bringing the ceremony to Glenville since he has been a longtime member of the Glenville Fire Company, having once served as chief. He says the importance of the memorial is that it serves as a reminder and also to educate people who didn’t experience the day of the attacks first-hand.

“We lost so many people in this community in the attacks and we sent many of our young people off to war after 9/11,” Chief Heavey told the Post. “Both career and volunteer firefighters responded that day. My children are teenagers and they don’t really remember pre 9/11 lives. It’s important for people to remember that the world really changed that day and that it’s never going to go back.”

Mr. Kornberg, Chief Heavey and Mr. Theis all approached Mr. Hughes with the idea to have the ceremony in Glenville at the town’s annual July 4 ceremony. Mr. Hughes, a Marine veteran, has served as the master of ceremonies for the Sept. 11 memorial ceremonies in past years and they said he quickly responded to the idea of making the steel a centerpiece of this year’s remembrance.

“We really appreciate all Chris has done to help us,” Mr. Kornberg said.

The ceremony itself is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 rain or shine. It’s open to the public and will include music, a 21-gun salute and a tribute to first responders. The Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy will participate and there will be the traditional candle lighting by the Red Cross and a memorial flower and wreath presentation. As in past years, members of the public are encouraged to bring their own flowers to place at the memorial.

“I think this is going to be a very moving ceremony,” Chief Heavey said. “I’ve seen just how much the community has embraced this as a memorial.”

There will soon be another memorial in town as plans are proceeding to build a glass sculpture of the Twin Towers in Cos Cob Park. An update on that is expected to be announced this week.

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