Villages remembers 9/11 attacks

District Public Safety firefighters from Station 45 raise the American flag before a 9/11 memorial service on Tuesday at St. Mark’s Evangelist Catholic Church in Summerfield.

Community members found many ways Tuesday to honor the memories of those who died in the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, the day everyone, as a nation, swore to never forget.

Names of the 343 FDNY first responders lost in the Twin Towers were read Tuesday morning at a remembrance ceremony at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Summerfield.

The Villages Parrothead Club sponsored a blood drive in which members and residents donated gallons of blood.  

Veterans’ Memorial Park of The Villages held a Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony at District Public Safety Station 44, and light afternoon showers could not dampen the spirits of hundreds who attended.

“We’re carrying the torch, because if we don’t remember the 3,000 who were murdered that day, then people will forget, or have forgotten,” said Bob Kane, president of the FDNY343 Memorial Club.

REMEMBERING THE 343

Of the 2,977 victims killed in the attacks, 412 were first responders coming to the aid of those trapped in the World Trade Center’s twin towers, and 343 were firefighters of the Fire Department of New York City.

Firefighters and law enforcement officers from tri-county departments gathered with area residents at the morning ceremony, organized by the FDNY343 Memorial Club, whose stated mission is “to keep alive the memories of our brothers killed on Sept. 11, 2001.”

Retired FDNY fireman Tony Magnanti, of the Village of Tamarind Grove, participated in reading the names of the 343 who gave their lives.

Magnanti, who was long retired at the time, said he knows a dozen guys whose kids followed them into firefighting careers and were killed that day.

Today, Magnanti walks with a cane, having recovered from a broken back and paralysis he suffered fighting a fire in the Bronx.

“They call us the brothers, and once you’re a brother it’s a lifetime thing, like the Marine Corps,” he said. “Once a fireman, always a fireman.”

Kane said his organization has held the ceremony for 10 years and described it as a labor of love. People from all over the community participate as readers.

In his welcoming remarks, Deacon Roger Gallagher said, “We come in remembrance and in hope, honoring those who died that day, and those who died later as a result of their praiseworthy actions on 9/11.”

Retired firefighters Mike Mongeluzzo, John Galente and Michael Shields provided an official ceremonial bell-ringing, a tradition of the FDNY.

As the last tones of the bell rang throughout the building, a long line of readers formed on each side of the stage. With each name read, a photo was displayed on video screens above the audience. Slowly, each firefighter’s bravery 17 years ago was remembered.

Chief Edmund Cain of the District Public Safety Department said he has been to every ceremony except last year’s, because of Hurricane Irma.

He said it was important for him to read some of the names to remember the nation’s experience 17 years ago.

Lynn McElwain, of Belleview, a member of the St. Vincent De Paul Friendship club, was on hand to read her assigned names.

With tear-filled eyes she tried to express her commitment to the ceremony.

“‘I can’t put it into words,” she said. “There are no words worthy of honoring these brave men.”

GIVING IN THEIR MEMORY

As first responders past and present congregated at St. Mark, Jimmy Buffett fans lined up around the block at District Public Safety Station 44 to give the gift of life.

Many had personal reasons to support the blood drive, said Skip Todd , advanced trustee and chairperson of The Villages Parrothead Club Blood Drive, which was sponsored in conjunction with Oneblood.

“I was a volunteer firefighter,” the Village of Bonita resident said. “A lot of other people in our club were either police or firemen or nurses or had friends or family who were there that day. It’s just a way for us to give back to commemorate what happened that day. Just a little thank you.”

Todd said his work with the phone company took him to World Trade Center site in the days after 9/11.

 “Every time they would find another body, the church bells would ring,” he said. “It was really hard working in there.”

Todd said it wasn’t just the work or the knowledge of what happened that made it hard. Even the smell got to him.

“The stench from the smoke, the fires, the explosions and everything else was just horrible,” he said

His volunteer fire department was spared from losing anyone that day, but he said others weren’t as fortunate.

 “A lot of the other volunteer departments around us said they had members who were in there working, and they perished,” Todd said. “We were going to funerals and funerals and funerals.”

Todd said the Parrotheads’ goal for the year was to collect more than 100 gallons of blood. Before the 9/11 blood drive even started, they had collected 58 gallons for the year, and with one more blood drive to come, they are on pace to exceed their goal.

One donor helping the cause was Bob Gaertner, of the Village of Charlotte, who reached a milestone with his donation.

“Today I reached the one-gallon mark,” he said.

Gaertner said the blood drive was an appropriate tribute to the fallen of 9/11.

“I think being at the fire station with the tribute out front and being able to give blood, it all ties together nicely,” he said. “It’s a fitting way to remember those who lost their lives.”

A SOLEMN SALUTE

After the buses collecting blood had pulled away, Villagers and first responders gathered in front of the firehouse for a remembrance ceremony hosted by Veterans’ Memorial Park of the Villages.

A flag that had once flown above the World Trade Center was flown at half-staff. Wreaths were placed before the monument. The bugle played Taps. The bagpipes played Amazing Grace.

Benedictions were solemnly delivered.

It was a time for reflection.

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Goodworth, District Public Safety, said he was reminded why he chose to become a firefighter.

“It really hits home about why we got in the profession that we did,” he said. “Any day, when we come to work, we could be called for that call of duty.”

For others it was a reminder of the ordinary heroes.

Marty Levine, of the Village of Fenney, a retired Teamster from New York, could tell you exactly where he was that morning.

“I was supposed to be down there that morning,” he said. “I saw it on the Jumbotron in Battery Park, and I said ‘I ain’t going down there.’”

But he did. He said he wants people to remember that there were construction workers and steelworkers alongside firefighters and cops, sifting through the rubble, working 12 hour days for a year and a half.

“I still get soft to this day,” he said. “I really do. Thank God I didn’t lose anybody close to me, but it’s still tough”

One more person at the ceremony who will almost certainly never forget that day or where he was.

John Gaonach of the Village of Hemingway, was on the 25th floor of one of the towers that morning.

“I want to thank the police and fire department for coming up there and getting us the hell out of there.”