Williston, New Hyde Park areas reflect on 9/11 attacks 22 years later

Williston, New Hyde Park areas reflect on 9/11 attacks 22 years later

Villages throughout the New Hyde Park and Williston area commemorated the lives that were lost during the Sept. 11 attacks during a rainy Monday night.

The village of Mineola invited residents for a remembrance ceremony that was moved inside the village’s Memorial Library due to the inclement weather. 

The event’s keynote speaker was Mineola High School social studies teacher John Fretz, a retired U.S. Marine Corporal who was on active duty from 2003 to 2007. 

Fretz served in combat operations, patrols and convoys for one year in Iraq’s Al Anbar province and described the parallels between the Marines he served with and the first responders in 2001. 

Fretz spoke about his time in Iraq patrolling for improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, learning quickly to do more with less. 

“Another lesson that you learned in Iraq is that when disaster strikes, your equipment is going to fail,” Fretz said. “And your only hope is exceptional people.”

Fretz went through by name the exceptional veterans he witnessed take action after a staff sergeant was seriously wounded when an IED exploded on the passenger side of his Humvee. Fretz spoke about the team effort it took to remove his staff sergeant from the wreckage and stabilize him as support came while thanking people he will never know, from the pilots who airlifted him to safety, to the surgeons who repaired his jaw and the therapist that taught him how to speak again.

“People will always be our greatest resource, and there are so many parallels to our first responders on Sept. 11 in New York City overcoming old and inefficient equipment when they needed it most,” Fretz said. 

Between 8:46 and 9:06 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers were struck, Fretz said New York City and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey mobilized the largest rescue operation in the city’s history between those 17 minutes. 

“Success is not contingent on a resource. Success is contingent on people,” Fretz said. “And when disaster strikes, it is impossible to be prepared. Equipment will fail but exceptional people will succeed.”

Fretz spoke about the heroism of FDNY Deputy Chief Orio Palmer, one of the few reported first responders to make it to the South Tower’s 78th floor, freeing a group of civilians trapped in an elevator one minute before the tower collapsed. 

Fretz also told the story of NYPD Officer John Perry, who woke up on Sept. 11 planning to hand in his resignation papers but instead ran to the towers to help, along with many others. 

“9/11 is about remembering that people, not things, are our greatest resource and we can only solve our biggest problems together,” Fretz said. 

Later on Monday night, as rain poured and lightning struck the skies, the village of Williston Park held a remembrance ceremony at Kelleher Field. Residents were seated under the park’s gazebo and bleachers in the outfield while officials spoke from under a tent on the foul line in right field. 

Before the ceremony ended, Pastor Chet Easton of Mineola’s First Presbyterian Church stressed the importance of finding ways to come together as a community when faced with disaster. 

“We are people that are constantly being faced with things today that divide us,” Easton said before his closing prayer. “My prayer is that we will find again that way of coming together and celebrating the uniqueness of who we are.”

Earlier that morning, the village of Floral Park held its remembrance ceremony outside village hall.

Residents, officials and first responders gathered in front of Floral Park’s Sept. 11 memorial, which has a stone foundation with the victims’ names from the village and a piece of a bent metal beam that was part of the Twin Towers.

A moment of silence was held for each of the victims, whose names were read by village officials, and a rose was placed on the stone that bears their names and surrounds the beam’s foundation by current and former chiefs of the Floral Park Fire Department.

The New Hyde Park Fire Department has a similar memorial, with the names of those lost and a piece of steel from the Twin Towers. 

The department held its annual remembrance ceremony Sunday afternoon after an 11 a.m. memorial mass at the Church of Holy Spirit. 

Behind the steel beam are two plaques dedicated to the people the village lost in the attacks and firefighters who succumbed to injuries or illness following the disaster. A moment of silence and bell was rung following each name that was read.

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