As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approached, many wondered how to appropriately mark the occasion. Try and be onsite at Ground Zero? Attend a church service? Visit a local memorial?
For many, the answer was to simply spend quality time with family and appreciate all the blessings and freedoms we enjoy due in part to the sacrifices of others. A popular destination on the anniversary morning was Penfield Beach, which could not have looked more pleasant or provided a greater environment for personal meditation, reflection and togetherness.
One threesome that had retreated to the sandy paradise was the Daley’s, of Fairfield – Donald and Pat and their grandson Henry. Don and Pat sat in beach chairs with the morning paper while Henry ran about and chased seagulls.
“My daughter was working at Coach on 34th Street and saw one tower come down,” said Don. “My son was living across the river and could see jetfighters flying over Brooklyn.”
For his own part, Don was teaching at what was then Fairfield High School. “A student came into my homeroom and said, ‘I think a plane flew into the World Trade Center.’ I said, ‘Nah.’ Of course, it was all history from that point on. It was an attack on New York but also on the nation and everything we stand for,” Don said.
Nearby, Vivian Sweedler, 5, being monitored by her live-in nanny Yohanna Nogueira, 22, made little sand mounds and practiced gymnastics, tumbling and doing cartwheels without a care in the world. It was a carefree playtime that we older Americans had engaged in when we were kids and an attitude we had carried before the horrific and tragic events of 9/11.
The Andrews, from Easton – Bill, Beth and their two-year-old son Ryan – were relaxed like the Daley’s and offered their thoughts as well. “I had a meeting in Manhattan that morning and Beth called me on the phone saying a plane flew into one of the towers,” Bill said. “I thought it was a small plane, and then got to Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. From there, I could see straight down and both buildings burning. I went to the meeting, which was at 9. We got through about 20 minutes as people kept going in and out. Ultimately, we just decided to try and get home.”
By about 10 or 10:30 a.m., Bill recalled, “All you could see was a huge cloud of dust and smoke. I caught an express bus up to the Bronx. As we drove north, you could see the plume of smoke on the horizon.”
Mom-daughter pair Valerie Charles and Olivia, 6, of Fairfield, had set themselves up in beach chairs and each was reading a consumer magazine. It was encouraging to see this focus, as someplace else in the world there might be the same set-up but with bomb-making manuals as literature.
Walking along the water’s edge was Kristy Gray, wearing a Jets jersey, Braeden Purser, 6, Siobhan Purser (carrying 14-week-old son Kamden), all of Fairfield, and dogs Harley and Brodie. The events of 9/11 touched Kristy very personally.
“My brother’s girlfriend, Candace Williams, was on the first plane that flew into the World Trade Center,” Kristy said. “He’s in the city right now with Candace’s brother.”
She related the events of that day. “I knew Candace was leaving from Boston for California,” she said. “I had a feeling that she was on that flight as soon as I knew where the plane had come out of, which was Logan. It was pure panic – the Internet, phones, nothing was working, and confirming things was very difficult. I was working at GE and there was only one TV there. My mom called to say the FBI had called and confirmed the worst. I started to freak out and scream and smash my phone. Someone picked up my stuff and drove me home.”
Most heart-breaking was when Kristy’s mother told her brother. “I thought he was going to die,” she said. “The sound that came out of him. She was his first love. She was only 20 years old.”