The 21st annual remembrance to those who lost their lives on Sept 11, 2001 was held in Cos Cob Park on Sunday, beginning at 8:46am with the firing of a cannon to mark the moment hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Governor Ned Lamont addressed the group of about 100 including elected officials and Greenwich first responders, as he described Sept 11, 2001 as the day many remember like yesterday.
“We remember the yellow ribbons and the casserole dishes left outside the doors for (families) of those who were killed on that horrific day,” he said. “We also remember all the incredible acts of heroism – large and small – among first responders, fire and police, running into that building.”
The governor mentioned philosopher George Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“The reason we are here is that 21 years later, you can’t forget,” Lamont said. “You can’t whitewash history. You have to learn from history….We want to make sure 9-11 never happens again.”
The governor spoke not only of the first responders on Sept 11, 2001, but those in all the years thereafter, as well as essential workers, nurses, doctors and teachers who showed up every day during the pandemic.
“I’m here thankful for the example that they showed, what it means to be an American, that we stick together and also never forget. Never forget the loved ones that we lost. Never forget that we will always be prepared. God save America,” Lamont said.
Stephanie Dunn Ashley, CEO of American Red Cross Metro NY North Chapter, said, “Many here lost loved ones, and all were touched by those events. Among us today are the children of those children – some who never had the privilege of meeting their parents.”
The names of the 32 people with ties to Greenwich who lost their lives on Sept 11, 2001 were read aloud by Lauren Walsh from the American Red Cross.
During a pause after each name, Greenwich’s Emergency Management director Joseph Laucella rang a bell.
The featured speaker was Joe Kelly, a Greenwich resident, former volunteer firefighter for Amogerone Volunteer Fire Company, former GHS rugby coach and current member of the Greenwich Board of Education.
Mr. Kelly, who worked on the 27th floor of a building a few blocks from the World Trade Center back in 2001, described hearing a loud boom and seeing a snowstorm of papers out his office window.
“I saw that the World Trade Center, where I had previously worked on the 105th floor of the tower for a couple years, had been struck by a plane and was on fire,” he said, adding that he had previously worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and immediately began to worry about his former colleagues.
“I started calling my friends,” he said. “No one was answering. Of course what I did, it’s in my nature to go toward trouble.”
Kelly described walking toward the World Trade Center and seeing chaos and confusion.
“I kept going forward and was standing under the South building…and realizing the magnitude of disaster, seeing bodies falling from the building which I had thought was debris. Then to my shock one of the loudest noises I’ve ever heard, when this giant plane did hit the South Tower.”
“As it crashed, the noise was deafening among tens of thousands of people watching this plane coming into the building,” Kelly continued. “The size of the plane, and noise and speed of the plane, told me, or my senses told me, that building was going to come down, so tens of thousands of us just ran.”
“I ran five blocks. People were running and panicking,” he recalled. “I turned after a few blocks and looked back and realized the building was still standing.”
He returned to his office building where he learned from television news the reality of what was happening.
“As I’m standing by the television set, looking out the window, I happened to see the South Tower then collapse,” he added. “From my vantage point I saw the plumes of dust pushing through the canyons between the buildings and seeing people running for what they thought their lives being threatened.”
Kelly said the second tower collapsed as he made his way toward Grand Central Station, where he was interviewed by CNN. He recalled arriving in Greenwich where first responders were waiting.
In following days, Mr. Kelly said he and his brothers headed to Ground Zero where they stayed for three days to help with the recovery effort.
“There were hundreds of us together working as one unit. Nobody cared the color of your skin. Nobody cared your religion. Nobody cared if you were a Republican or Democrat. We were all Americans at that moment. It was such a unique feeling. We were attacked and we all came together.”
Kelly said he was a changed person after the experience. He suggested everyone do a good deed or service in honor of one of the 3,000 who perished that day.
“I try to do something good on a regular basis,” he said.