Americans have an uncanny sense of where they were during historic events. Times such as 7:55 AM, 12:30 PM and 8:45 AM are all times that every American should sear into their memories.
7:55 AM on December 7, 1941 represents when the first wave of Japanese fighter bombers tore through the Hawaiian landscape and attacked Pearl Harbor. The time of 12:30 PM on November 22, 1963 was time when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
8:45 AM on September 11, 2001, was the day that the skyline of New York City and the Twin Trade-Towers would define the challenges that would face the American people for years to come. It would also be a day which would galvanize the American spirit and sense of patriotism not seen for almost six decades prior to that morning.
It was a day when everyone within our borders simply became an “American,” and didn’t have to add a term before “American” to define them. It matters little what car you drove, the church you attended or the area of the nation you came from; you were all “Americans” on that day.
The flags were everywhere, and the people rallied around those colors. There was a rush to join the effort to protect the nation at recruiting stations across the land, similar to the patriotic fever that ran through the nation after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, six decades earlier. For then our enemies had truly awoken a sleeping giant.
The estimates of the numbers that would perish due to the 9-11 attacks against New York City alone would be reduced due to the heroic efforts of the first responders in New York. On that day, 2,753 people perished when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 flew into those two iconic structures.
Of the 2,753 individuals, 343 were New York City firefighters and EMS personnel, 23 NYPD officers and 37 Port Authority officers. They lost their lives rushing into those buildings to save complete strangers. As a nation we came together to grieve with their families as they were ours. As a nation we came to realize the dedication and heroic callings of those professionals who rose to the challenge that day.
The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. saw American Airlines Flight 77 crash into that building and the catastrophic loss of another 184 innocent individuals.
All of this, while another 40 innocent passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 would perish as hijackers would attempt to crash a fourth aircraft into but another Washington D.C. landmark. The cowardly attempts of those terrorists were thwarted by the courageous actions of the passengers on that flight, as they sacrificed their lives to save countless others as Flight 93 dove into a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Those brave individuals gave new meaning to the cry, “Lets Roll,” when heard over cellphone devices as the passengers stormed the heavily fortified flight deck and thwart the attempts of the hijackers to kill more Americans. They gave their lives, so others might live.
The death totals have risen from those attacks as more first responders have passed from the effects of working on the “Pile,” a term to describe mounds of debris at Ground Zero which entombed many of the victims of that heinous act of cowardly aggression against our nation and the foundations of Democracy itself.
A number of law enforcement or fire/rescue professionals that now live on Marco Island have either worked in or around the NYC area. A number of those individuals have also worked for the City of Marco Island in some capacity or another.
Many of them have stark memories of that dark day in 2001. Former Deputy Fire Chief Peter Hayden was one of those senior staff members who would assume command of operations for the incident and is now a resident of Marco Island. Hayden himself would be promoted to be Chief of Department of FDNY in 2004 and would later retire.
Present Police Chief Tracy Frazzano was assigned to the detective bureau of the Montclair, New Jersey. Police Department. Although they were not deployed to the city on that day, she still carries the memories of that day as does her predecessor Al Schettino.
Schettino was a Lieutenant for Ridgefield Police Department, just across the river from New York City. He was assigned to secure the schools in his community after the attacks to protect the most innocent of our nation. He would eventually do duty at the George Washington Bridge with members of his department and others to secure that access point into and out of the city. Others Ridgefield officers were deployed to the city to assist with the overflow of calls there.
Marco Police Captain Rich Stoltenberg, also a member of the Ridgefield, New Jersey Police Department, was a Detective Sergeant in the Investigative Bureau and was also on duty that day. Like Schettino, he was assigned a number of different tasks to assist with the exodus from the city, but also had a personal connection with the incident. His son was attending John Jay College in Manhattan and struggling to exit the city that day, which he would eventually accomplish with guidance from rightfully concerned father.
Stephan Mariani is also a former retired Sergeant from NYPD who was on duty during that day and witnessed the aftermath. After retirement he would move to Marco Island and become a member of the Marco Island Department for several years before finally retiring fulltime.
One other retired member of NYPD was Ed D’Alessandro, who had retired from NYPD and moved to Marco Island and joined the local department. He would leave the island shortly after the attacks to work side-by-side with his former brothers to recover bodies from the rubble at Ground-Zero for two weeks.
We thank these men and women for their service as well as any we may have missed, but have to ask ourselves what happened to the America that stood up together on that day and showed the world we would not cower in a corner or shrink from our leadership role in the world.
What happened to the America that respected our first responders and recognized their professionalism and heroic dedication to service? Are our memories so short that we can no longer remember the assault on the vary foundations of our democracy while listening to the shrill voices of those who would call for a retreat from the great accomplishments of our republic in an attempt to rewrite history and move the nation away from its basic principles and liberties.
Viewing officers being humiliated as they have water poured over them, in an effort to deter them from their sworn duties, or hearing the strident voices seeking retribution against those that serve to protect us is becoming an embarrassment to our nation and those that have sacrificed so much.
Our nation needs to return to the “America” that we saw emerge after 9-11 that showed the world the strength and resilience of the America that stands for something. An America that can be counted on by our allies to stand with them and assure our enemies we will defeat them.
9-11 should never be forgotten or minimized. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the realities of the times we live in and never be ashamed to wave our flag with pride and patriotism.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com.