Candlelight vigil at Juniper Valley Park: 21 years since 9/11

By Stephanie Meditz

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Deacon Paul Norman opened the vigil with a prayer.

Although they could not see the 9/11 Tribute in Light through the rain, Middle Village residents held the Twin Towers’ memory in their hearts on Sunday. 

The 9/11 Candlelight Vigil Committee of Queens held its annual vigil in Juniper Valley Park to honor all the lives that were lost 21 years ago. 

The vigil consisted of prayers, music, poems and the reading of the names of the men and women who died. 

“We come remembering those who lost their lives in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania,” Deacon Paul Norman said in his opening prayer. “We are mindful of the sacrifice of public servants who demonstrated the greatest love of all by laying down their lives for friends.” 

The speakers at the vigil recounted the fear and horror of Sept. 11th, the grief for all the people who died and the renewed strength and unity of New York City in the days that followed. 

“On this day 21 years ago, life as we knew it was forever changed,” said Frank DeBiase of the 9/11 Candlelight Vigil Committee. “The days that followed were filled with a sense of immense loss, grief and sadness. Yet, through the smoke, through the debris, through the unending agony of uncertainty, rose a spirit the likes of which many had never seen before and few ever thought possible.” 

“Many of us lost a friend, a relative, a neighbor or co-worker on Sept. 11, 2001,” he continued. “Many have perished and many continue to suffer from having been exposed to the toxic environment in and around the World Trade Center site. It is with this in mind that we gather in this special place each year to honor their memory and to pray for their families, our city and our great nation.” 

This is precisely why Al Haag and his family attend the vigil every year. 

“It’s important to come back every year to pay our respects,” he said. “One of my close friends passed away. He was a firefighter…so we come every year. I think we missed one so far.”

Leonora Norman recalled her own fear for her father and brother, both of whom were in the city that day. 

“My brother, now he’s a captain in the fire department, back then he was in 238, and his lieutenant died. And so he was called in afterwards, and we were worried about him,” she said. 

“My dad worked back in New York,” she continued. “They had all those people down in the basement of that building waiting to be cleared to go home, and he remembered covering his mouth, seeing the filaments and everything in the air.” 

Heather Arzberger, chairperson of the arts department at Christ the King Regional High School, accompanied the reading of the names with a beautiful flute melody, followed by the playing of “Taps” in honor of veterans. 

“If you have never visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., you should put it on your to-do list,” DeBiase said. “Walking past the wall and seeing over 52,000 names of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country is such a moving experience.” 

There is a Sept. 11th memorial garden at Juniper Valley Park that the 9/11 Candlelight Vigil Committee works with JC Landscaping and the NYC Parks Department to maintain. 

Several elected officials and community leaders attended the vigil, including Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar; Councilman Bob Holden; commanding officer of the 104th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Kevin Coleman; Community Board 5’s District Manager Gary Giordano; Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and Congresswoman Grace Meng. 

Also in attendance were the Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, Vietnam Veterans Chapter 32, the Blue Knights International Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club Chapter 16, the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corp, members of the NYPD and fire and Emergency Medical Services. 

“The torch is ours to carry,” DeBiase said in his closing remarks. “It is up to us to ensure that future generations never forget, and more importantly, always remember those who perished on and as a result of that horrific day and those of us who proudly honor their memory.”

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