Article and Photos by Grace Bennett
A spirit of appreciation filled the bucolic space of Gedney Park’s 9/11 Memorial today as New Castle and Westchester public officials and clergy expressed their gratitude to First Responders while also commending community service and generous neighbor acts which emulate their work; preceding the ceremony, firefighters and police officers first circled into the heart of the Memorial facing and saluting speakers.
“We follow the inspiring lead of those who sacrificed their own health in long and arduous rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero by joining this weekend in community service projects to help our neighbors,” said keynote speaker Congresswoman Nita Lowey. “And we proudly celebrate the American spirit of endurance and perseverance.”
A generosity of spirit was alive and well in New Castle in the days and months following 9/11, according to a Narrative of 9/11* written by New Castle’s Bob Coulombe. At the conclusion of the ceremony, it was read in three parts by New Castle town board members. The text of the narrative can be found toward the end of this story.
At the start of the ceremony, Town Supervisor Robert Greenstein said that “On 9/11, around America we give thanks to who rushed toward danger instead of away from it; here in New Castle we have both those who grieve and those we honor and thank. Out of the ashes we have grown stronger.
“In New Castle, that spirit of community surrounds us 365 days a year from our First Responders–fire departments and ambulance corps.– to those who help our elderly, teach our children, or volunteer to help homeless and hungry through houses of worship.
“Let’s make sure every day we remember those we love and join me to thank those who serve us.”
In the invocation, Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs, senior minister of the First Congregational Church, stated: “God be with all of our First Responders as they risk their own well-being themselves for us every day. Help us to never take for granted the work that they do so that we might be safe. Help us to remember just how precious life and living are and we may never ever take that for granted.”
Introducing Congresswoman Lowey as the keynote speaker, state Assemblyman David Buchwald described Lowey as “a guide to this country in heeding the lessons of 15 years ago at home and abroad.” He stated that as a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, Lowey secured dollars for First Responders, and makes sure that the New York metropolitan area has received its fair share of 9/11 funds. He said Lowey has also been at the forefront of “securing our nuclear facilities, air and train facilities, and stood by our allies fighting terrorism overseas in their own land.”
“United together we will continue to endure to protect the American people,” Lowey stated, too.
Greenstein introduced Mike Wolfensohn for the “Reading of the Lost.” In doing so, Greenstein noted, “We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the efforts of Mike to bring this memorial to New Castle.”
Wolfensohn spoke eloquently and emotionally about how neighbor helped neighbor and asked the New Castle community to embrace those neighborly feelings again.
“We all remember the color of the sky that day. We banded together…to offer love and support as we searched for our lost neighbor–everybody putting their own lives on hold for whatever needed to be done. That feeling of unity and community is what served as the basis for this memorial and this contemplative space. It was never about anything but the spirit that we all felt.”
“We tend to fall back into our regular routines… lessons are forgotten…” He asked the New Castle community “”to embrace those good feelings about being a good neighbor, that spirit of patriotism; let’s honor the memory of those lost…by trying harder to live like we did.”
And then, with his voice breaking, Wolfensohn fondly remembered the residents of New Castle who were lost, reciting their names: Louis Inghliteria, George Morell, and Alan Schwartzstein.
In a Benediction, Cantor Starr Trumpeter of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester stated: “9/11 ingrained in all of us that each life is a cherished offering and that each life has meaning and intention. We are reminded that many wounds are still healing and many emotions are still raw. The challenge is to remember the worst that has happened to America while moving toward a better America. “
* Narrative of 9/11 by CVAC Captain Bob Coulombe
Part One, read by Council Member Lisa Katz
“On September 11, 2001, our country was attacked by Al Quaeda terrorists. These horrific attacks took place at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, at The Pentagon in Washington D.C., and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed. In total, 2,973 people perished on September 11, 2001, including three Town of New Castle Residents, Louis Inghliteria, George Morell, and Allan Schwartzstein.
“In the aftermath, up to 10,000 volunteers worked to recover survivors and those who were lost. These brave first responders came from all over the United States and overseas. Unfortunately, only 28 people were found alive. Another 112 people perished but were identified and returned to their grieving families for burial and closure. There are currently another 1022 victims who are memorialized at the Reflection Pools at the 9/11 Plaza. This stands at their final resting place. Visitors can find white roses from time to time at the memorial; this white rose denotes which denotes the birthday of the person on whose name it rests. This is one way we are still able to show respect and, “never forget” those who lost their lives that day.
The only surviving tree from September 11, 2001 was discovered by two iron workers, who said they tried to save it because it was the only living thing down there that day. Fortunately they were able to save it and it was treated at the New York Botanical Garden. Today that tree can be found replanted on the site just west of the South Tower. It is thriving to this day and is a great symbol of our perseverance.
O’Hara’s, a pub just south of the FDNY Ten House was cleaned up by the owner and used as a triage center on September 11, 2001. In the days following, it was used as a rehab center for the people working at Ground Zero. Volunteers were able to go to O’Hara’s for a meal, a shower, and a little rest. The Pub’s owner, Mike O’Hara, never charged anyone a cent for six months. Word of this generosity spread quickly throughout the First Responder Community and today, O’Hara’s Pub is home to over 3,000 patches from Police, Fire, EMS and Military Worldwide.
Part 2, read by Town Council Member Adam Brodsky
Minutes after the second airplane hit the towers, an unprecedented mobilization began. Our Country hadn’t seen anything like it, since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The first ever “All Hands” alarm was called by the New York City Fire Department. Police, Fire and EMS personnel mobilized in Westchester, Long Island, New Jersey, as well as in surrounding states and then around the country.
Here, in The Town of New Castle, Police Chief Bob Breen received call at 9:30 am from Bob Coulombe, Captain of Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corp asking permission to use the police bus to take CVAC volunteers to the World Trade Center. Chief Breen quickly agreed and CVAC Captain Bob Coulombe asked members who could to report in–with the advisory that their stay would be for an undetermined period of time. Fifteen volunteers reported in within minutes of the call for help. Dan Blum, a CVAC member and then Director of Operations for Westchester EMS joined his Paramedics at CVAC Headquarters and we were ordered by County EMS Command to report to Yonkers Raceway. First responders, along with 350 other pieces of fire apparatuses, ambulances and police vehicles, and over 1500 volunteers waited for a call to Ground Zero, but were never called down.
As CVAC was preparing to deploy, Richie Lange, from Lange’s Little Store, pulled up with sandwiches, cases of water and soda for the volunteers. We still don’t know how Richie knew we were preparing to go to Ground Zero, but we appreciate the thought and respect we felt that day, especially from Richie and his crew.
Chief Charlie Bergstrom, from the Chappaqua Fire Department, had 52 members who volunteered to go to Ground Zero in the aftermath. They were not called to Ground Zero, but reported to station houses in The Bronx to cover for fire companies, who had responded to Ground Zero. Millwood Chief, Ray Lips, had 37 members of his department respond as well. First Assistant Chief Walter Quast and his engine crew were deployed to a staging center in Valhalla, by Westchester County Incident Command. Captain Mike Horan called his brother, Robert, in Massachusetts and with the help of FDNY Captain Rickets, set up a critical item relay to Ground Zero.
Chief Breen put on his other hat as a Lt. Commander in the Naval Militia and was part of a team who reached out to the affected families to secure DNA evidence to help identify victims. Bob Coulombe was the Commander of a team and the effort of his people and other teams resulted in the largest DNA effort to assist victim identification in United States History.
Under the supervision of Lt. John Vize, The New Castle Police Department sent officers to New York City in order to provide a variety of services, including controlling critical infrastructure, roadways and passages such as tunnels and bridges. Many went on their own time to help with Rescue and Recovery on the pile and spent days working there.
Part 3, read by Town Council Member Jeremy Saland
Jerry Faiella, who was New Castle Town Administrator at the time, with the consent of Supervisor Marion Sinek, sent out an appeal to the citizens of New Castle to donate equipment to help the rescuers have sufficient tools, gloves, masks etc. Within a few days The Town was able to fill a tractor trailer, donated by Barr Brothers Moving Company, and drive down to Ground Zero to be put to use by all rescue teams and volunteers.
Diana Quast and the women of the Millwood Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary collaborated to provide a compendium of skill sets offered by the citizens of New Castle. This book was delivered to the Jacob Javitz Center and became an asset of the Incident Command Team dealing with the complexity of the work being done in and around Ground Zero.
On May 2, 2002, the last piece of steel was removed in a ceremony marking the end of that deployment. The cost is calculated at 100 million dollars a week. 1.5 million tons of debris was removed. Mike Wolfenson arranged for New Castle to receive the steel remnant from Ground Zero, that steel is the centerpiece of this memorial around which we gather today.
Today is the 15th Anniversary of these horrific attacks and since this memorial was created in 2008, we come here to reflect and remember every year. It is a good thing that we, as a community meet, pause to reflect, and remember the impact of this solemn day in our history. We must also remember the immediate and active response that the citizens of New Castle contributed that day and in the days that followed– ready to go at a moments notice and with no questions asked.
God rest the souls of Louis Inghliteria, George Morell, and Alan Schwartzstein. God Bless their families, God Bless this Community and God Bless the United States of America.
Bob Coulombe, Captain CVAC on September 11, 2001