Tunnel to Towers Tees Off For Vets

By Iryna Shkurhanishkurhan@queensledger.com 

Stephen Siller, a Brooklyn firefighter, was heading to play a round of golf after his shift when he heard that a plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center over his radio. 

By the time he retrieved his gear, and made it to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, it was blocked off for security purposes. So he strapped his gear to his back and raced through the tunnel to the site of the carnage. Siller lost his life on September 11, 2001 in the line of duty. 

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was founded to honor Siller’s story and sacrifice as a first responder. Its National Golf Series became the foundation’s flagship event to raise funds to support firefighters, police officers, and veterans who were injured on the job, as well as families impacted by a loss. 

John Rafferty, a long-time Middle Village resident, is hosting his first Golf Tournament at Lake Success Golf Club on Long Island next month through the organization. 

“It’s an amazing organization that really gives so much of the money that’s generated back to people that deserve it,” said Rafferty in a phone interview with the Queens Ledger.

In the past, Tunnels to Towers paid off the mortgages of widows who lost their husbands in the line of service. They’ve also renovated homes of first responders who were paralyzed in their line of duty and needed to make their home more accessible.

On his committee sits Laine Alvarez who lost her husband Detective Luis Alvarez to 9/11 related cancer. Luis passed away in June 2009 after leading the charge to make NYC’s September 11 Victim Compensation Fund permanent. 

After Tunnel to Towers approved his application to host the event three months ago, he got to work recruiting sponsors and selling golf foursomes for the event. So far his strategy has been to push the event on social media and reach out to his connections and encourage them to reserve a spot. By May 15, he hopes to sell out.  

The Yankees donated a ticket package and other organizations donated goods for the silent auction on the day off the event. The event’s sponsors include AvalonBay, Lefrak Organization and United Public Adjusters. 

Rafferty has lived in Middle Village for over 20 years and graduated from St. John’s University, in Queens with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. He went on to spend 13 years as a lieutenant in the NYPD, based in Brooklyn. He was assigned to the Anti-Crime force where he worked to take guns off the street and was the commanding officer of his own detective squad. 

He says that his new role as a CEO of Watchguard 24/7, which he founded immediately after leaving the force, is “totally different” from his career in law enforcement. The company provides security guards for schools, residences and commercial locations. Many of their employees are retired members of law enforcement and the military. 

“I’m not looking to highlight my company,” said Rafferty. “There’s a joy you get when you can help a child, an elderly person, an animal, or a young person. So now, being in the private sector, you know, you kind of miss that a little bit.”

Over the last couple years, he’s attended several of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s golf tournaments with his wife. He says that she has been a key organizer of the event.

“I want the people who put money in to come to have a good time because, you know, you want them to come back year after year,” said Rafferty, who hopes to host the event annually. “But the biggest goal of this committee is we want to raise as much money as possible.”

The Golf Tournament will be held on Monday, May 15 at Lake Success Golf Club on Long Island. There will also be opportunities to bid in the silent auction and win in the raffle. To donate or join the event, visit https://golfnyclassic.t2t.org

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

By Stephanie Meditz


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.”

Maspeth honors Squad 288, Hazmat 1 firefighters 21 years later

Memorial ceremony remembers those lost on 9/11

By Jessica Meditz


The young nieces and grandchildren of deceased firefighter Dennis Carey of Hazmat 1. (Photo: Walter Karling)

In true “Maspeth is America” fashion, residents gathered on Grand Avenue to remember Sept. 11, 2001, 21 years later.

At a ceremony held by Maspeth Federal Savings at Maspeth Memorial Park, the community honored the firefighters of Squad 288/Hazmat 1 who perished in the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.

Squad 288/Hazmat 1 had the single largest loss of firefighters of any FDNY firehouse.

Kenneth Rudzewick, emcee of the event, cited the importance of holding memorial ceremonies like this one every year, “We gather here in Maspeth and across America to mark the unfinished work of remembering. There will never be a time when this work is finished.”

“I’m sure you, as I do, remember what you were doing and how you received the dreadful news on 9/11. That day changed the lives of everyone in America,” he continued.

Like Rudzewick, other longtime guests took part in the event — including Msgr. Joseph Calise of St. Stan’s; Vincent Tomeo, retired high school teacher and poet; Bill and Liz Huisman, a husband and wife musical duo; Mike Aylward, who read the names of the fallen first responders; John Christ, who performed “Taps” and Kathleen Nealon, who sang the national anthem.

Kathleen Nealon and the St. Stan’s Players sing the National Anthem as two members of the audience salute. (Photos: Walter Karling)

“It’s an honor to sit here today in memory of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 as well as those who continue to die of 9/11-related illnesses,” Nealon said. “I keep them and their families in my prayers always. God bless them and God bless America.”

The memorial especially honored Maspeth residents who perished as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

Firefighters lay the wreath in honor of Squad 288/Hazmat 1.

Local elected officials joined the community in remembrance, including Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilman Robert Holden and State Senator Michael Gianaris.

They discussed the importance of not only remembering and honoring the lives lost in the present, but also how to carry out their memory to future generations.

“For these memories to live on, for the sacrifices to be remembered, they have to be taught…I saw as the flags are being laid so many future generations here, and it’s on us to make sure they don’t forget what happened,” Gianaris said.

“It’s important to learn the lessons of those days, the lessons of sacrificing for freedom, the lessons of selflessness and of giving one’s life to save others,” he continued. “As time goes on, it will be on us to find people who didn’t experience it, who will continue to teach the lesson.”

Holden echoed his sentiment, and emphasized his wish to see the Maspeth firehouse recognized as a landmark.

He alongside the Juniper Park Civic Association have fought for this, however The Landmarks Preservation Commission turned down their request, because it has been less than 30 years — much to his dismay.

He also reminisced on the sense of solidarity among New Yorkers and Americans following the attack, and hopes to see it return.

“Remembering the days following 9/11, everybody was together, everybody was cheering on first responders. Everybody was thanking them. We were united; we were a true United States,” he said.

“We have to get that back again…in my lifetime, I’ve never seen us so divided. We probably haven’t been this divided since the Civil War,” he continued.” So we have an urgent responsibility as elected officials to unite our constituents on a common cause to keep us safe.”

Ceremony honors firefighters from Squad 288/Hazmat 1

There was a distinct emotional feeling among attendees at Maspeth Federal Savings’ annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony this year as the community marked the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
As it is annually, the ceremony was held in front of a 9/11 monument in Maspeth Memorial Park dedicated to the 19 firefighters from Squad 288/HazMat 1 and others from the community who lost their lives on that morning.
The Squad 288/Hazmat 1 firehouse, which is located just off the memorial park, had the single largest loss of firefighters of any FDNY firehouse on September 11.
But this year’s ceremony looked a bit different, with the gate surrounding Memorial Square behind the monument adorned with banners displaying the names of the firefighters from Squad 288/HazMat 1.
Each name was read aloud at the event.
Kenneth Rudzewick, host of the event, cited the importance of holding memorial ceremonies like this one every year.
“This is a 20-year journey that has affected most of our lives, remembering the attack and marking it is vital,” he said. “There is no better way to honor the lives of those heroes taken in 2001 than to protect and honor their fellow rescuers of today.”
The ceremony included words from Vincent Tomeo, a retired high school teacher and poet; music from husband-and-wife duo Bill and Liz Huisman, and the singing of the National Anthem by Kathleen Nealon.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to sit here for the last 20 years,” said Nealon. “I keep all of those who died on 9/11 and their families in my prayers always, as well as those who have died from 9/11-related illnesses and continue to suffer from that day.”
In addition to the 343 firefighters killed directly in the attack, 253 later died due to complications from their rescue work at Ground Zero.
Maspeth Federal Savings continues to honor them and add them to the memorial, including Firefighter Thomas Oelkers, who died just this May from a World Trade Center-related illness.
Congresswoman Grace Meng and Councilman Robert Holden discussed the importance of not only remembering and honoring the lives lost, but also how to carry out justice on their behalf in the present day.
Meng said that Congress is working on a resolution to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 to ensure that New York’s future generations never forget the events of that day.
“We are also working on a bipartisan basis to make sure that we are fully funding the health programs that will benefit so many of the victims’ families and to take care of those who are still with us,” she said.
Holden, alongside the Juniper Park Civic Association, has fought to have the Maspeth firehouse recognized as a landmark. The Landmarks Preservation Commission turned down their request because it was constructed too recently.
“The Landmarks Preservation Commission will have to landmark this,” he said “We’re not going to wait 30 years.”

Restaurant workers from Twin Towers recall experiences

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the restaurant staff at Windows on the World went about their business as usual on the top floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. They prepared food in the kitchen, served breakfast to the tourists and businessmen outside, and started getting the lunch menu ready.
Within the next few hours, 73 members of the restaurant staff would be dead.
The impact of 9/11 on the Windows on the World restaurant workers has not been forgotten. Every year since the attack, a dedicated group of survivors and organizers has held a vigil to remember their fallen coworkers and friends.
On the 20th anniversary this past weekend, a special vigil was held on the roof of 110 William Street. With a perfect view of One World Trade Center, approximately 45 Windows on the World workers were joined by politicians, dignitaries, and friends for speeches, a candle lighting, and moments of silence.
“Today we honor the 73 restaurant workers who died on September 11,” said Fekkak Mamdouh, an East Elmhurst resident and former worker at Windows on the World. “We should never forget them, their struggle, and their sacrifice.”
Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the event’s keynote speaker. She discussed the ongoing sacrifices that restaurant workers make during times of hardship, including 9/11 and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m here today to thank all of you for honoring those who were lost and who continue to work and serve,” Clinton said. “People who are working in service, restaurants, and hospitals are always working to make this a better country, and today we remember those workers who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
A number of local politicians were also in attendance, including State Senator John Liu. Speaking to our paper, Liu discussed the ways in which essential workers continue to be a source of inspiration for their communities.
“Twenty years seems like a long time, but I know we all remember September 11, 2001, like it was yesterday,” Liu said. “But as terrible as that day was, in the coming days and years it brought out the best in people across New York City and beyond. We remember the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice, but we must remember all the service workers that died that fateful day. No one was collateral damage. Every death mattered.”

9/11 mural restored on 20th anniversary of attacks


By Evan Triantafilidis

A mural honoring three local residents killed in the 9/11 attacks has been given new life with a fresh coat of paint.

The faces of Marcello Matricciano, Edward Lehman and James Cartier can be seen on the wall of N&R Deli at the corner of 25th Avenue and 77th Street in East Elmhurst.

Originally painted in 2015 by nonprofit group Groundswell, a restoration process was started after funding was secured by the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber president and CEO Thomas Grech said he noticed the mural was in need of a touch-up during one of his many breakfast trips to the deli. The chamber’s headquarters is located not far away.

“One day in July, the phone started ringing when I was getting my eggs,” said Grech. “I went out to answer the phone and I looked up at this wall. For those of you who haven’t seen it lately, it was starting to peel.”

Soon after, local artists Benny Guerra and Carlo Nieva began scraping and peeling off the old paint that had been weathered and beaten over the past six years.

“We tried to save as much of the original paint as possible,” said Guerra. “By the time we peeled all of it off, about 60 percent of the mural needed attention.”

The artists referenced photographs taken from the mural’s original dedication, applying a coat of primer and color-matching the old and new paint.

The 16-by-40-foot mural will soon be given another clear coat to extend its life even further.

“My favorite part is the integration of the old World Trade Center towers with the Freedom Tower,” said Nieva. “They are patriots.”

Deputy Chief Kevin Williams of the NYPD extended his thoughts to the families of the 9/11 victims who were in attendance for the rededication of the mural.

“I think this is symbolic of the American spirit and the New York spirit,” said Williams. “Over the years, this mural may have been battered and worn, but same thing as that day. We came back, made it stronger, and made our country better.”

John Cartier, the brother of one of the victims honored in the mural, expressed his gratitude for all those involved in restoring the mural. He remembers his brother, who died at 26 years old, as full of life and always having something funny to say.

“I think it’s important as family members to recognize all of you who have carried us through a time of darkness,” said Cartier. “All of you in this neighborhood were the light. You guys gave us hope to continue forward.”

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