Grown men wept while carefree children flitted about like rays of hope as Brooklynites packed their parks, schools, piers and churches on Sunday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and to uphold the tragic memories of their lost relatives, and the fallen strangers who have become like family.
Mary Dwyer, of Marine Park, prepared for a tribute she helped to coordinate at Bill Brown Park in Sheepshead Bay by listening to 9-11-themed melodies, including “I Haven’t Seen You Since September,” by songwriter Tom Chelston, who flew in from Colorado to personally serenade her with the song.
“I don’t know him from a hole in the wall, but I feel very honored that he cares that much for all the people who died that day,” said Dwyer, whose sister, Lucy Fishman, was killed when terrorists crashed a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center’s South Tower, taking with them the vivacious 36-year-old mother of two, known for her outgoing nature and knack to turn bad moods into wellsprings of love and laughter.
Dwyer, her mom, Mary Bracken, and other family members, wore shirts with Fishman’s photograph on the front, framed by the words, “Mommy’s little girl…now God’s angel,” and a montage of NYPD, NYFD and EMS shields on the back with the message, “Thank you for all your help on 9/11.”
“My daughter was my buddy and my friend, I used to wrestle with her even though she was grown,” said Bracken, a member of the Brooklyn-Bedford 9-11 Memorial Committee, a group formed in the dark days immediately after 9-11 by dedicated community residents who vowed to “never forget.”
In the beginning, they met for memorials each month. Ten years later, the community tribute at the small park on Avenue X, between Bedford Avenue and E. 24th Street, is among the most beloved in the city, eliciting volunteers by the dozens, including Deejay Nick, who has provided free music over the years. It is regularly attended by cops, firemen and EMS workers from across the borough, and last year there was a color guard from the USS New York, a Navy ship whose bow was built with seven tons of steel recovered from the Twin Towers.
The focus on Sunday was on the victims, particularly the youngest ones, such as the five children, aged 3 to 11, who were killed aboard American Airlines Flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon, and the three tots, ages 2, 3 and 4, who died when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower. Their stories, and those of others, were relayed by speakers from The New York Times’ series, “Portraits of Grief.”
“A lot of people forget about the people in the planes,” said Dwyer.
Some speakers didn’t need a book to prompt them.
Marine Park mom Regina Coyle shared memories of her 26-year-old son, James, a firemen from Ladder 3 in Manhattan, who rushed to the call of duty on his day off, never to return home.
“He just loved every part of being a fireman,” she recalled.
Catherine Morrisey came to honor her uncle, Safety Battalion 1 Firefighter Robert Crawford, whose trademark phrase was, “We got your back.”
The poignant memories were received by a crowd which seemed entranced as it stood silently near a small handball court, painted with a Stars and Stripes mural by boxer-turned-artist “Rockin’ Ray” Fiore, and inscribed with the names of the more than 270 Brooklynites who died at the World Trade Center.
Fiore added a few more on Sunday, including that of Marine Park Firefighter Robert Hess, who sprang into action on his day off, passing away last year from injuries he sustained at Ground Zero.
Five miles away in Kensington, an interactive memorial by the Friends of Kensington turned PS 230’s schoolyard at Dahill and Albemarle roads into a 9-11 sanctuary. There, pint-sized patriots helped attendees make Tibetan prayer flags to promote universal harmony.
Little Beiany Hernandez proudly hoisted a pink sign she made, which read, “We are in this together,” while school mate Brenda Arias carried a blue poster, which urged, “Peace unto all the world’s family.”
The uplifting crafts class was followed by a silent vigil “to honor our desire for world peace and the lives of those we lost,” said a group spokesperson.
Across town, state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) marked the day of reflection with two 9-11 memorials: One at Marine Park, featuring a candlelight ceremony, music and speakers, followed by abother at the 69th Street Pier in Bay Ridge, where attendees — many of whom arrived in a procession along the Shore Road Promenade — were greeted by posters of the victims.
Golden hailed the supreme sacrifices of the fallen with some choice words for their killers.
“These citizens were taken from us at the hands of cowards, who attacked this nation because of what we are,” he said.
Brooklyn’s reputation as the epicenter of the world also withstood the test at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Flatbush where Christians, Jews and Muslims united for an outdoor interfaith prayer service, calling for peace and unity.
“In good times and in bad times, we’re still the same people who walk the same streets, take the same subways, ride the same buses,” contended church pastor Rev. Michael Perry.
The clergyman was joined by Rabbi Alvin Kass, spiritual leader of the East Midwood Jewish Center, who spoke about the continuity of life.
“Tragedies of the past never end, they just take different forms,” he said.
That sentiment was reinforced by Imam Mohammed Sabir Hafiz of the Makki Mosque on Coney Island Avenue, who credited interfaith gatherings with building vital bridges in the community.
“These three religions are just like one family, we should love each other, and pray for peace together,” he stated.
Tremendous turn-outs at the borough-wide observances brought a measure of consolation to those most affected by the attacks — the victims’ families.
“It would be devastating to me to have people not care,” said Dwyer.