Tag Archives: 9/11

We Remember

Seventeen years ago today, America was shattered.

Westport was not spared on September 11, 2001. Neighbors and former residents were among the nearly 3,000 people from around the world who were killed that awful day.

Years before they fell, Ted Horowitz photographed the majestic Twin Towers.

(Photo/copyright Ted Horowitz)

He’s a Westporter now. His images capture the beauty of our town, and the many wonderful people who live here.

His photos are moments in time. They preserve forever the way things were.

Because — as we all learned on that clear, beautiful Tuesday morning — it takes just one instant for the world to change, forever.

Bikers Honor 9/11

Around noon today, more than 2,000 motorcyclists roared through Westport.

Police blocked all side roads, and waved the bikers through traffic lights. They sped up Saugatuck and Riverside Avenues, then along Wilton Road, on their noisy way from Norwalk to Bridgeport.

Some Westporters fumed at the delays.

Many others cheered.

The bikers were part of the CT United Ride. Held annually since 9/11, the event honors all the lives lost on that tragic day, 17 years ago.

It’s Connecticut’s largest 9/11 commemoration. And it’s a fundraiser, supporting state firefighters, law enforcement and United Way.

“06880” reader Susan Birk was caught in the traffic.

She did not mind one bit.

She says, “It was very moving. It was my pleasure to wait for them, watch, pray and remember.”

She took this photo from her rear view mirror. She particularly likes the family with the flag, near the train tracks. They too honor the many victims of 9/11.

(Photo/Susan Birk)

Joe Valiante’s Badge, George Bush’s Library

Joe Valiante spent 35 years with the Westport Fire Department. He fought some of the town’s toughest fires, and rose through the ranks to become assistant chief.

When he was not working, the 1961 Staples High School graduate rode with New York City’s Rescue 1. Based on 43rd Street near the Intrepid, the elite company faces situations seldom seen in Westport.

But nothing could have prepared them for September 11, 2001.

The next day, Valiante rode with them to the still-smoldering World Trade Center. For a week he worked the bucket brigade, hauling material from the site.

Joe Valiante (center, in white) working at Ground Zero.

Valiante was there 4 days later, when President Bush addressed the volunteers through a bullhorn.

Valiante was back a year later too, on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. In fact, he was in the honor guard (with fellow local firefighter Todd Denke). After the ceremony, Bush stopped to chat.

Joe Valiante and George W. Bush, on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. Just before the photographer took this photo, a Secret Service agent diverted the president’s attention.

Valiante then gave the president his Westport assistant fire chief badge.

The next year, Valiante retired. From time to time, he wondered what became of his gift.

Joe Valiante’s Westport Fire Department badge.

Last January, Valiante took his grandson to Trump Tower. They watched a parade of famous people — Ben Carson, Kellyanne Conway, Senator Joe Manchin and others — head through the lobby to meet the president-elect.

Fox News correspondent John Roberts was there as well. Valiante asked if he knew what happens to the gifts people give to presidents. Roberts told him to contact the George W. Bush Presidential Library, at Southern Methodist University.

Valiante emailed the curator. Then he forgot about it.

A month ago, a library official got back to Valiante. She knew exactly where his Westport badge was.

It’s in the permanent collection.

Joe Valiante has not been down to Dallas to see it. But he doesn’t have to.

Just knowing it’s there makes him proud.

The front page of the New York Post on September 12, 2002. Joe Valiante (white hat) is in the lower right corner.


9/11 “Taps”

An alert “06880” reader who has never emailed before — and who requests anonymity — shares a special moment:

A friend and I were walking today. We took a seat at Old Mill Beach, on the bench next to the old Positano restaurant. We’ve walked there many times, but never sat down.

About 10 minutes into our conversation, a man appeared on the sidewalk. He started to play “Taps.”

Everyone nearby stood. A young boy put his hand over his heart.

When the man finished, we applauded and yelled “thank you!” He gave a quick wave, then disappeared.

My friend and I — who on September 11, 2001 were both newly married, and living in New York — cried our hearts out, right there on the bench.

We felt badly we had not taken a picture of the man playing “Taps.” Then we realized no photo could have captured that experience.

I don’t know the man’s name. But I hope he knows what a special moment he provided to the handful of people fortunate enough to have seen and heard him today.


9/11 Clouds

September 11, 2001 was a spectacular late summer day. It turned dark — metaphorically — very quickly

September 11, 2016 dawned dark. Right now — meteorologically — it’s gorgeous.

Maria Calise captured this scene, earlier today at Compo Beach:

(Photo/Maria Calise)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Maria Calise)

Birth, Life And Death: Westport’s 9/11 Babies

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001.

Another 13,328 Americans were born that day.

Hillary O’Neill was one of them.

Her parents — Coleytown Middle School teacher Glenn, and Heather, a landscape designer — spent that awful morning at Norwalk Hospital. They watched on TV as the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon burned, and the world wondered what would happen next.

Hillary arrived at 2:55 p.m. Outside the delivery room hospital staff rushed around, preparing for an overflow onslaught of victims from Manhattan who never came.

Hillary O'Neill (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Hillary O’Neill (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Today, Hillary turns 15. Her birthday feels like none of the other 364 days of the year. This month, Esquire.com published her insights.

Hillary says that her parents never tried to hide her unique birthday from her. They showed her videos and news stories about 9/11. She heard “the panic in people’s voices.”

When she was 9 days old, President Bush declared a war on terror. It’s been going on ever since. “It’s the norm for me,” she told Esquire.  “And I feel like it’s only going to get worse.”

Like her friends, the Staples High School sophomore thinks — and worries about — the high cost of education. Conflicts in the Middle East. Terror attacks.

But in the tales she’s heard about the day she was born, Hillary also finds hope. She says:

When I heard the stories about how 9/11 was in the days afterwards, I heard how everyone came together, and everyone was nicer to each other. To me, it’s important to be able to be that sense of hope. I know some of our family friends lost their spouses or parents, and on my birthday, they always make sure to send me a card or text. I think it’s such a hard day for them that thinking about it as my birthday is a lot easier—something happy on a day that would otherwise have no joy.

For me, my birthday is big because it’s happy and marks me getting older, but for the rest of the world, my birthday means one of the worst days they can remember. On my birthday—I don’t know how to put it into words. Conflicting, is what I’m trying to say.

It’s conflicting emotions, because I feel like it’s really important to have a day to remember the victims of 9/11, but I also want to celebrate. I’ve come to the point now where I can find a way to do both. Now, honoring victims has become the celebration of my birthday—like volunteering, which I did last year. That’s just as good as any celebration to me.

Heather and Hillary O'Neill. (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Heather and Hillary O’Neill. (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

I’m proud to be an American. I’m glad I live in a country where change can happen, even though it might be difficult. My dad for example, he’s from Ireland, and when he moved here, his whole family wanted to be in America because it represented this hope and future you could have. It’s represented hope for so many people from other countries. I feel like we need to get that feeling back.

Being born on 9/11 is a part of who I am. It’s a responsibility to bring hope to the world that I try to carry with me every day.

(Click here to read the full Esquire interview with Hillary O’Neill.)

Another Staples High School student — Gabriel Dick — was born 6 days after Hillary.

His birth was tinged with even more sorrow: His father was killed when the North Tower collapsed.

He never knew his dad, Ariel Jacobs. But Gabi imagines him on the top floor, he told People.com.

“I think he knows he’s gonna die, but he’s at peace and he’s just hoping my mom and I are gonna be okay.”

Gabi believes his father is “out there — somewhere, guiding me along my path in life.” He and his mother release red balloons on 9/11, with notes to Ari.

Gabriel Dick (Photo/Abbie Townsend Venture Photography Greenwich)

Gabriel Dick (Photo/Abbie Townsend Venture Photography Greenwich)

Fifteen years later, Gabi says, “I know that I missed out, but I don’t need people to feel sorry for me because there’s nothing for me to remember. I just need them to understand that I lost something.”

(Click here to read the full People magazine interview with Gabriel Dick.)

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)

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Honoring Young Veterans’ Sacrifices

Yesterday was Veterans Day. For several years, Staples assistant principal Rich Franzis arranged assemblies, speakers and other events at his school to mark the day.

This year, former Staples teacher — and US Army Ranger — Dan Geraghty invited Franzis to participate at Geraghty’s current school, Easton/Redding’s Joel Barlow High.

Franzis brought along 2 Staples grads. Both are from the Class of 2005. Both joined the Marine Corps.

“At the point in their lives when most 18-year-olds are thinking about summer jobs, the beach and an upcoming transition to college,” Franzis noted, “each of them wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount of up to, and including, their life.”

All-State football player Pat Scott served 2 tours of duty in Iraq, and another in Guantanamo. This year, he will graduate from Fairfield University.

Cal Wauchope pinned on sergeant stripes in record time. He served twice in Iraq, and once in Afghanistan. He too graduates this year, from Pace University.

Celebrating Veterans Day yesterday at Joel Barlow High School *(from left): Calvin Wauchope, Rich Franzis, Pat Scott and Dan Geraghty

Celebrating Veterans Day yesterday at Joel Barlow High School *(from left): Calvin Wauchope, Rich Franzis, Pat Scott and Dan Geraghty

Franzis also talked about 2 other members of Staples’ Class of ’05. Greg Jacobs, an excellent student, served several tours of duty in Afghanistan as a scout sniper. He is now studying at Columbia University. Orlando Figueroa served in Iraq, after getting himself in superb physical shape as a senior.

At Barlow, Franzis presented each former Stapleite with a letter. It conveyed his personal thanks — and a story.

The story began when Franzis was a battalion commander in 2004. One of his soldiers was an intelligence analyst who had deployed to Afghanistan just a few weeks after 9/11.

Before he left, he got permission from the FBI, NYPD and Fire Department of New York to go to the Fresh Kills landfill site, where remains from the World Trade Center were hauled.

Franzis’ soldier secured 50 pounds of granite from the fallen buildings. With the Army’s blessing, he transported it to Afghanistan. His goal was to distribute pieces of the granite to troops on the ground, as a remembrance of why they were there.

Remains from the World Trade Center found their way to Rich Franzis' soldiers in Afghanistan.

Remains from the World Trade Center found their way to Rich Franzis’ soldiers in Afghanistan.

In 2007, when Franzis was in Iraq, he received a box from the man. In it was a personalized letter to every one of Franzis’ soldiers — with a piece of the granite from the World Trade Center for each.

Yesterday, Franzis gave a piece of the granite — and a copy of the letter his soldier sent — to Scott and Wauchope. It’s a personal reminder of their own journeys.

“You have figuratively walked a million miles since the Twin Towers fell on that September morning of your freshman year at Staples,” Franzis said. “Let this be a reminder that you can do anything you set out to do.

“The hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life is already behind you.”

Spencer Platt’s Eye On Egypt

Cairo is one of the most beautiful cities Spencer Platt has ever seen.

The stunning architecture and lovely light — combined with layers of ancient history — make it “sublime,” the 1989 Staples graduate says.

A staff photographer for Getty Images, he loved capturing images of ordinary Egyptians going about their daily lives.

Spencer Platt at work, in 2006.

Spencer Platt at work, in 2006.

But he was there, a couple of weeks ago, to cover the political upheaval. Between the demands of providing dramatic shots of riots and strife, and the suspicions and tensions of the people he met, Cairo was an extremely difficult assignment.

Then again, Spencer is used to that. It’s his job.

One of 3 world-renowned photographers who graduated from Staples, and are now good friends — the others are Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario — Spencer has seen most of the world’s hot spots.

He photographed the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006 (and won the World Press Photo of the Year award for his shot of grinning Lebanese girls in front of a devastated building).  He also worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Congo and Indonesia.

On September 11, 2001, Spencer was an eyewitness to the World Trade Center attacks. His harrowing photo of smoke and flames billowing from south tower seconds after the 2nd plane hit is one of the iconic images of that day.

“9/11 changed everything,” Spencer says. “It was such an awful event, but it led to a huge resurgence in my profession. We went from news organizations pulling back on coverage, to being dispatched all over the world.”

Three weeks ago, he arrived in Beirut to cover the flood of Syrian refugees. He had barely settled in when his editor called. The Egyptian government had announced a 48-hour deadline to the Muslim Brotherhood. Spencer took the 1st plane to Cairo.

One view of the upheaval in Egypt. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

One view of the upheaval in Egypt. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Despite the city’s beauty, he says, the assignment was “not rewarding.” As he walked around the city he felt mistrust, tension and hostility.

“I try to show not just fighting, but daily life,” he says. “But it was incredibly difficult to shoot that. I got threats. I got in arguments. People kept asking me for my camera.”

Pro-Morsi people thought he — one of the few Westerners there — was a spy.

The temperature was 110 in the shade. Cairo, he says, was “really combustible.”

Calm amid the chaos. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images0

Calm amid the chaos. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images0

Spencer did not feel that his life was in danger. But he was involved in physical altercations. And at the end of each day, he says, “it was tough to feel upbeat.”

Democracy is “not alive and well” in Egypt, Spencer says. “I don’t see good things there.”

That saddens him. “The people are very, very good. They’re beautiful, with a lot to offer.”

He is proud of photos like those he took of an African family. He showed their hesitation and fear, as they watched protests from afar.

A family holds Egyptian flags on the edge of Tahrir Square.

A family holds Egyptian flags on the edge of Tahrir Square.

Working in a tense situation like Egypt is always a challenge, and not just because of danger. Spencer files a couple of times a day — 30 or 40 images — and editors want “headline” shots of protests. At the same time, Spencer tries to “go beyond that. I want to show the lives behind the demonstrations.”

And, he admits, “I’m just parachuting in. I have a rudimentary knowledge of Egyptian history and politics.”

Riding to the airport at dawn, for a 7 a.m. flight home, he watched with fascination as Cairo awoke.

“It was very poetic,” Spencer says. “The families, the light, the architecture — it’s the most beautiful city I’ve seen in the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the garbage and decay, it’s very picturesque.”

So what’s after Egypt?

“I just covered Anthony Weiner and the mayoral race,” Spencer laughs. “No comment.”

But whatever he shoots, his passport and satellite phone are always near.

“That’s the way I like it,” he says. “My specialty is breaking news. I’m sure something else will emerge — unfortunately — in the near future.”

Lt. Col. Armas’ Compelling Memorial Day Video

On 9/11, Thomas Armas was a Marine. When the World Trade Center collapsed, most people ran for their lives. He ran toward it. Marines, he says simply, are trained to help.

Lt. Col. Armas went on to serve 3 tours of duty, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week, he told his story on our high school’s TV show, “Good Morning Staples.”

Videos featuring service members are a Memorial Day tradition at Staples. Students in TV Production class spend long hours interviewing; selecting photos and music, and weaving together a compelling, instructive film, which is shown in every class.

The iconic photo of Thomas Armas, carrying a wounded woman from the World Trade Center.

This year’s video is one of the best.

With gentle prodding from senior JJ Mathewson, Armas describes that day at Ground Zero, and life in war zones.

But just as compelling are his insights into what it all means.

“People don’t give their lives for their country,” Armas says. “They give it for their hometowns.” That means, he explains, that Americans should have fun on Memorial Day. Going to the beach, a ballgame or barbecue is exactly why men and women have given their lives: so we can enjoy life.

However, he adds, we also have an obligation to give back.

Lt. Col. Thomas Armas during his “Good Morning Staples” interview.

As a Rye native — growing up in an environment very similar to Westport — he “was given the best childhood a person could have.” He gave back what he could by joining the military. He tells Staples students they don’t have to do that — but they should find some way to contribute to their community and their country, using their time and talents to better the lives of others.

The Staples Media Lab’s 2012 Memorial Day video is vitally important. It’s well researched, loving produced and richly rewarding.

It takes less than 15 minutes to watch.

But the lessons may last a lifetime.

Click below to view:

9/11, 10/5

Yesterday’s “06880” looked back on September 11, 2001 from the perspective of 3 days later.  

Three weeks after that horrific day —  on October 5, 2011 — my “Woog’s World” column in the Westport News looked back on the lessons of that day, and the ways we’d changed.

It seems incredible, even obscene, that something good could rise out of last month’s terrorist attacks.

But this much seems true:  Americans have come together in ways impossible to imagine in the days before September 11.

The signs are everywhere — flags flap from the antennas of Porsches and pickups alike; George W. Bush’s approval ratings are higher than any politician’s except Rudy Giuliani’s, and the hottest Halloween costumes this year honor our nation’s new heroes, firefighters and police and EMTs — but there has been a subtler shift as well.

Across America, cities and suburbs that less than 4 weeks ago were simply places to live, are now communities.

The changes are obvious in New York City, of course, where subway riders now solicitously usher others onto trains, give up seats and even engage in conversations with strangers; in stores, where sales clerks ask customers if they can be of help, then actually try to do exactly that, and in business offices, where cutthroat competitors have gone out of their way to help rival companies and colleagues in need.

But the changes are obvious in Westport too, and in some ways they are as remarkable as those in the big city 50 miles west.

There was always an excuse for New Yorkers’ rudeness, pushiness and isolation:  In a city so vast and dense you could not interact with everyone, so why bother making any human contact at all?

Westporters’ incivility, by contrast, was more willful, less understandable.  We chose to live in a supposedly friendly town, most of us, but we often acted in the most unfriendly ways.

Don’t get me wrong; Westport has always been a wonderful place to live.  We have nodded to our neighbors, socialized with friends, participated in civic affairs and enjoyed the good life this town offers in such abundance.

But we have tended to do so on our own terms, whenever and wherever we wanted to.  And if we did not care to be particularly neighborly, no one could make us.

After September 11, all that is different.

I notice the changes everywhere.  I see it in the way Westporters greet the FedEx and UPS delivery persons, the men and women so important to our business lives.  A month ago we waited for them with stopwatches; every moment they were late was a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Now we are grateful the overnight delivery arrives overnight, whenever it comes.  We understand that planes can be grounded, for good reason.  We know too that from time to time the people sending us crucial documents and packages must face even more crucial events in their lives that prevent them from getting those items out on time.

I see it at Staples football games, home and away.  Crowds seem larger than usual; in addition to students and parents, the stands are filled with random townspeople.  People seem to be enjoying the fall air, watching a bunch of kids trying their best, and gathering together with other human beings in a united group.

I see it in the offers being made, neighbor to neighbor, to look out for one another.  Parents appear willing, even eager, to pick up other parents’ children from after-school activities, dance lessons and soccer practice.

They check on elderly or infirm neighbors.  They stop one another on walks down the road, and ask how families are doing.

For a long time we believed everyone’s life was his own.  That remains true, but we now also know that all those lives are precious — and each of us has an obligation to support and sustain those other lives.

I see it in the checkout lines at the supermarket.  Not long ago the woman scanning the tomatoes, taco shells and toothpaste was faceless, anonymous and — if she had to call the manager for help — incompetent.

Today we look into her tired eyes and recognize she is just a hard-working woman trying to do her job.  We understand with sudden clarity that the reason she does not talk to us is because she cannot speak English.  We wonder, for the first time, if she has a family somewhere far from Westport, and if she sends them money whenever she can.

I see it in the Westport Fire Department’s annual open house.  Usually a low-key affair, with a few dads toting young children for a look at the big red engines, last weekend’s event was SRO.

Residents of all ages spent more time staring at the firefighters than at their trucks.  They engaged the firefighters in conversation, asking about their jobs, their lives, even intensely personal subjects like the loss of their New York City colleagues.  And the Westport men, women and children asking those questions listened closely to the responses.

It would be incredible, even obscene, to pretend that the changes we have seen over the past 3 1/2 weeks are worth the losses our nation has suffered.  No one would wish last month’s terrorist attack on our worst enemy.  But at the same time, it would be silly to ignore those changes, or pretend they are not welcome and good.

Today, as we move into the next phase of our post-terror attack world, we face tremendous challenges.  Turning Westport’s temporary changes into permanent ones my seem a tangential goal.

But if, in the difficult days ahead, we are to be a true community — and not just a town — it is certainly worth a try.