LAKE ARIEL - As if it were yesterday, many who responded to the September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attacks still recall the events that forever changed the nation 17 years ago. A few of the many recollections were shared at Reflection Park in the Hideout Community Tuesday, where Barry Neiss a retired New York City police officer shared how he saw the second plane hit the second tower, causing the area to become “black as day” with fire and smoke billowing from the first tower.
After the second plane hit the second tower, Neiss’s radio continued and there were questions of how to respond because “we were the protectors of the city” he said. As the calls continued Neiss learned of a female officer who was pinned and later died. Because of his position, Neiss believed it was his responsibility to protect everyone, even though they were jumping out of buildings and today, that’s what he remembers.
Neiss said people talk about their experience but not how they feel and it wasn’t until he retired, that he finally spoke with fellow detectives who made him realize that he was experiencing “survivor’s guilt.” Even today, 17 years later Neiss said he would’ve given his life to save one person and now, he lives with that feeling so he serves on the Lake Ariel Fire Company. His story, Neiss believes is of “failure” because of the people “we let down.” Neiss said the losses weren’t “completely my fault,” it’s just that the thousands who died, he believes he should’ve protected. Breaking up as he spoke, the situation was “out of my control.”
Commander of Paul Sweeney Post 807 of Hamlin and retired Navy Captain, Tim French told those in attendance not to forget those who died 17 years ago. Of the thousands who died that day, French acknowledged 246 who were passengers on the four planes, 125 were at the Pentagon, 2,606 were at the World Trade Center totaling 2,977, not including the many who have since succumb to the effects of that day. A more common total is 2,996, which French doesn’t acknowledge because 19 were terrorists who died on the planes and he has “no sense of loss” for them. As an American, the 2,977 is “profound” and the events mustn’t be forgotten because “improvements” have been made due to the “spotlight of accountability” that resulted from the deaths.
Bill Wagner said the “hopes and dreams of thousands ended” that day, but not before those on Flight 93 reclaimed control of the plane with a “battle cry” of ‘let’s roll.’ It is believed that the plane was targeting the White House or Capitol building. Because of the passengers who thwarted the hijackers’ plans, however, the plane crashed in a field in Shanksville Pennsylvania, killing the 246 passengers and crew. Wagner said Americans continue to remember those who “paid the ultimate sacrifice” by revisiting the parks and memorials that were created in their honor.
Rich Straczynski, the Hideout’s Board of Directors chairman, stated the numbers of those killed, injured, costs and the many who continue to suffer from ailments, but those who were killed mustn’t be forgotten because they were “taken from us so cruelly.” Services honor those who risked their lives for people they never knew and that strength has helped many since that initial day, by reminding others of the “love and faith that binds us together as one family.” Because of the unity, the terrorists know they “will never defeat a nation as great and strong as America.” They try to create fear by making Americans turn on one another. The reality however, is that it will never happen “because as Americans we do not give into fear,” said Straczynski because “we will preserve our freedom and way of life that continues to be a beacon for the the rest of the world.”
Bob Essex, who worked for the New York City Port Authority Police for 20 years, eight of which were at the World Trade Center, said on that day 17 years ago, civilians too were risking their lives, trying to rescue others because “we did everything we could.” Why though, they survived he wonders and it took him years to accept that, he said with tears in his eyes because “God sent angels,” one who carried him out of a building. Those who risked their safety did so because “we believed in something, even if it meant sacrificing everything.”
A first responder in the city, David Simmons recalled Tuesday as the rain fell that it was a “day like no other” that he remembers without being able to express exactly how that makes him feel, because they jumped in “harm’s way without a second thought” and even today, they would “do it again.” As he responded 17 years ago, there were cheers of support, despite the sights and sounds and Tuesday he told everyone to be thankful for what they have because “you never know when it’s the last call.”
That day, Mary Bozeman-French who was active duty military said although she wasn’t in New York City that day, she was still with the other responders and they were “ready to roll.” As she spoke, Bozeman-French fought back tears as she said the events that unfolded on television were “surreal” because it is a day that will forever be “etched in your brain.” But, while people remember, those who attend the ceremonies seem to be fewer and fewer, which she questioned if it was because there are different generations now. She said, “We cannot forget what happened” because “we are stronger.”
Reflection Park, Wagner said was the dream of Bob Weigand to honor his friends and the many who lost their lives September 11, 2001. Once the park was complete, the remaining funds were used to start the Help the Hero Fund that assists local heros involved in the fire and police departments in their “time of need.” Since its inception, over $30,000 has been given to local heroes and families financially .
A retired battalion chief from the New York City Fire Department, Friday will mark the 50th anniversary that Weigand started his career. Those who responded 17 years ago, their response was something they did everyday said Weigand, but their “bravery and heroism” was to be remembered because of their “supreme sacrifice.” As a nation, “We will never forget.”