On the evening of Sept. 7, the shore of Tobay Beach—home of the Town of Oyster Bay’s 9/11 memorial—was host to a special annual ceremony to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This ceremony represents an ongoing duty that, according to Town Supervisor John Venditto, will be carried on for years to come in the name of those who lost their lives on that fateful day 15 years ago.
“If the time ever comes that we do not to get together to remember those we lost on 9/11, shame on us,” he said. “If we ever stop getting together every September—no matter how difficult it is—we will lose the rights, opportunities and privileges that the people who sacrificed their lives on 9/11 afford us.”
The ceremony was held in a tent set up in front of the 9/11 memorial—a wall adorned with flowers and covered with the names of the lost, accompanied by a World Trade Center steel beam recovered from the site of Ground Zero—and the audience was welcomed to the solemn event by Maureen Fitzgerald, Oyster Bay’s commissioner of community and youth services.
“All of us here have been affected in one way or another by the events of 9/11,” she said. “It’s been 15 years and we continue to commemorate the day, cherish the memories and celebrate the lives of those that we have lost. As we gather at the beach here tonight, we hope that this service in some small way gives you peace.”
The memorial ceremony consisted of speeches by civic leaders, stirring drum and bagpipe numbers by the Nassau County Police Emerald Society, vocal performances by guest singers and the emotional reading of the names of the lost engraved upon on the Tobay Beach 9/11 memorial wall.
Venditto encouraged residents touched by the events of 9/11 to find solace in any way that they needed to during the evening and noted that they, as a community, would stand together as a family until the physical and emotional scars inflicted upon a nation of people 15 years ago finally fade and disappear.
Perhaps the most touching part of the evening was a speech given by Reverend Eric Olaf Olsen, Pastor of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Plainview. For Olsen, the specter of 9/11 haunts him to this very day.
“Every year, when I hear the September is about to begin, I feel as though someone punched me… I feel as though I’m going to get sick. My knees get weak and I often break down and a sweat. It’s been 15 years, but for me it feels like 15 minutes some days,” he said. “I was in the city on September 11, and about an hour before the planes hit I was having breakfast with a colleague. After the second plane hit I opened up a church with my colleague in midtown and we watched the endless stream of people that came up from downtown covered with ash, who walked into the church and washed themselves in the oversized baptismal, whose waters then turned black. That changed my life forever.”
Olsen credited the spirit and perseverance of the people of New York in helping him, in turn, to find the strength to continue with his holy work in a world that can sometimes be cruel and dangerous to the innocent.
“What gives me the courage to live in such a difficult time as we do is how you all continue to shine despite the pain that you face each day,” he said. “You all continue to rise, continue to live, continue t o grow and that truly is an inspiration.”