Tag Archives: 9/11

Unsung Heroes #115

Among the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11, 161 were from Connecticut.

Two lived in Westport: Jonathan Uman and Bradley Vadas. Brothers Keith and Scott Coleman grew up here. All worked at the World Trade Center.

They were sons, fathers and brothers. They had much of their lives still ahead of them.

They may not be “heroes” in the traditional sense. They simply went to work one morning, and were killed minutes later in random, brutal and senseless acts of terror.

But they were heroes to their spouses, girlfriends, parents, siblings and friends. They were good men, good sons, good fathers and good brothers.

We remember them today. And every day.

The Sherwood Island State Park 9/11 Memorial honors the 161 Connecticut residents killed 18 years ago today. (Photo/David Squires)

9/11: Andrew Colabella Remembers

On September 11, 2001, Westport native and current RTM member Andrew Colabella was in 7th grade at Bedford Middle School. He remembers:

I was sitting in Mr. Summ’s English class. We were called to the auditorium. Another fire drill? Motivational speaker? A boring play? Seemed too soon in the beginning of the year to be doing this.

Mrs. Wormser spoke with Ms. Reneri, standing with Mr. Delgado, about 2 planes hitting the World Trade Center. They had no other information to give.

Why would they call us to the auditorium about that? Planes crash every year. I started thinking, what if there is more to this? My friends said I had no idea what I was talking about.

Terrorism wasn’t new to me. My cousin John DiGiovanni was killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

We headed to lunch at 10:32. Parents were coming to the school picking up their kids. Some cried hysterically as they left the guidance office. Even teachers tried to hide their tears.

I went into the hall to hit the power button on the TV. There it was: 2 smoldering towers. People jumping from the high floors. Maybe they’ll land safely. Maybe they’re bringing helicopters with water to put it out, or throw rope to get them out.

It was serious. It was real.

The iconic 9/11 photo was taken by Westport’s Spencer Platt. He lived near the Twin Towers on that awful morning.

I called home. Dad was safe.

A girl walked out of guidance, crying with 2 friends. I never forgot that memory.

Later I learned about Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. I stood with my mom at Burying Hill Beach, watching smoke pour out like blood from a bad cut.

We had been cut. Nearly 3,000 people died, including 343 firefighters, 71 police officers, and EMTs and military personnel. That’s not counting the countless number of people who became sick and died long after the attacks.

Sherwood Island State Park, my backyard, holds the memory of 161 names — all Connecticut residents who died on 9/11. On a clear day, you can see the Manhattan skyline from the site.

I never forgot. If you’re reading this, you never forgot where you were or what you were doing that day.

As we grow older, more and more people born after 2001 have no memory of it. I’ve spoken with youth, even people my age, who never heard of the 1993 attacks, Pearl Harbor, the Korean War, the Oklahoma City bombing, even World War I.

Educating future generations is imperative. The history of how we got to where we are today, and what we endured as a nation, is vital. We can never forget those who died for no reason. We can never let our guard down.

Our world changed. The unthinkable happened. We were brought to our knees. But we got right back up, and struck back.

Today I have been selected to read 21 names from the podium of Ground Zero. It is an honor to read names of men and women. I never knew or met nearly all of them, but they are known to and loved by others: a parent, child, grandchild, cousin, spouse, but overall, a soul. These are the 21 names:

  • Boyie Muhammed
  • Manuel D. Mojica Jr
  • Manuel De Jesus Molina
  • Justin John Molisani Jr
  • Franklyn Monahan
  • Kristen Leigh Montanaro
  • Michael G. Montesi
  • Antonio De Jesus Montoya Valdes
  • Thomas Carlo Moody
  • Krishna V. Moorthy
  • Abner Morales
  • Paula E. Morales
  • Gerard P. Moran Jr.
  • John Michael Moran
  • Lyndsey Stapleton Morehouse
  • Steven P. Morello
  • Yvette Nicole Moreno
  • Richard J. Morgan
  • Sanae Mori
  • Leonel Geronimo Morocho Morocho
  • And my cousin, John Di Giovanni

“No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time” is affixed to the Ground Zero wall. Each square is a different color, representing each different, unique person who died that day.

Where were you on 9/11? What were you doing?

Who did you know? Who do you remember?

This is my story. What’s yours?

Adam J. Lewis Academy Thrives

Adam J. Lewis grew up poor, in the Bronx. But he seized the educational opportunities he was given — scholarships to Dalton, then Hamilton College — and made a great, successful and fulfilling life for himself.

Then, on September 11, 2001 he was killed at his World Trade Center desk.

In his memory, the people who loved Adam — his wife and many friends — built a superbly fitting tribute.

Adam J. Lewis

Adam J. Lewis

Patty Lewis and Westporter Julie Mombello — friends from their days working together at Greens Farms Academy — knew the importance of pre-school education.

In Westport, pre-school — where children explore the world using all their senses, and learn letters, numbers, scientific observation, music, art, language, problem-solving, cooperation, coordination and many other skills — is a given. That’s far less true in Bridgeport, where the cost of preschool can be daunting.

Patty and Julie vowed to do what they could to give little children just a few miles from Westport the same advantages their own kids had.

The Adam J. Lewis Pre-School was born. And — despite daunting obstacles including fundraising, site selection and city bureaucracy — it has thrived since opening in 2013.

From its start — with just 12 children — it has grown steadily. This year there are 70 students, in pre-K3, pre-K4, kindergarten and 1st grade.

Last year the school relocated to a downtown Bridgeport campus. Its new name is the Adam J. Lewis Academy. They’ll add one grade each year. Ultimately they’ll serve 150 students, as a pre-K through grade 5 independent school.

The goal is to provide children from every background with an intellectually, socially and personally transformative educational experience. Students will leave empowered, and ready to make a difference in the world.

Westporters continue to play a key role in the Adam J. Lewis Academy. Lee Bollert is a longtime board member; 2nd Selectman Jen Tooker joined 4 years ago. Mombello remains a driving force.

Saba Pina — an original teacher 7 years ago — is still there. A new 1st grade instructor came from the Greens Farms Academy internship program.

Many other Westporters help too, volunteering their time and donating funds. (Fully 100% of school families receive need-based financial assistance.)

9/11 was one of the darkest days in American history. Out of those ashes though, a wonderful story of hope and dreams continues to rise.

(For more information on the Adam J. Lewis Academy — and to help — click here.)

An early class of very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

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-taps

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.”