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9/11 brings LIers to Ground Zero to remember

Police officers of the Port Authority of New

Police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey carry an American flag that flew over the World Trade Center towers during the 11th anniversary ceremonies at Ground Zero. (Sept. 11, 2012) Credit: Justin Lane/Pool

As the names of the Sept. 11 victims echo across lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning, many Long Islanders were there remembering those lost, holding their pictures and holding on to memories.

Many of those attending the ceremony at Ground Zero were connected to Long Island, making their annual visit to the site, paying their respects.

As names were read aloud, most family members gathered around the stage, set between the memorial's two reflecting pools, to listen.

Some looked intently at those reading the names. Others lowered their heads slightly.

Ilia Rodriguez's son, Carlos Rey Lillo, was a paramedic for the FDNY who died on 9/11 at age 37. At the time, mother and son lived in West Babylon.

Rodriguez lives in Miami now, but she comes each year to attend the ceremony in honor of her son.

This year, her granddaughter will read Lillo's name. And as Rodriguez waits, she holds a picture of her son rescuing a woman from one of the towers before it collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Please don't forget about my son; he was a 'caballero,' " she said, using the Spanish word for gentleman. "I come here every year, holding this picture. I'm sad, I'm very sad today. I'm living with a pain that is inside, that is always in my heart."

Lillo's aunt, Nelsa Rodriguez, of Huntington, said her nephew "loved helping people since he was a little boy. He was so sweet, always ready to give a helping hand."

Joe Loliscio, 59, a volunteer firefighter for the East Rockaway Fire Department who works as a park supervisor for the Town of Hempstead, was a first responder.

He remembers arriving at the site 11 years ago, with his fellow firefighters in a village fire truck. The area was desolate, a dust pile, said Loliscio, who lives in Baldwin.

He remembered a feeling of emptiness. "When we got here, it was all over. There was nothing to do. No one to rescue. No life to save. Not even a fire to fight," he said.

The scene also remains etched in Loliscio's memory. "When we got here, it was all dust. . . . It was a day of horror, when the world stood still."

He was dressed Tuesday morning in his firefighter's uniform, with Ground Zero medals, standing in Zuccotti Park, looking at the memorial from afar.

Tracy Armentano, 39, of Rocky Hill, Conn., did not know FDNY firefighter Michael J. Cawley, of North Bellmore, who died in the attacks, but she has come to Ground Zero every year for 10 years to support her friends, who were friends of Cawley.

She wore a T-shirt with Cawley's name and carried a photo of the Twin Towers.

"We've been coming for 10 years because we feel it's important to be here," Armentano said.

Walter Matuza, 20, of Staten Island, used to go fishing every year on Sept. 11. That was the favorite pastime of his father, Walter Matuza Jr., originally from West Babylon, who was in the north tower, on the 92nd floor.

The younger Matuza, who said he became blind shortly after his father's death, said he used to hate coming to 9/11 memorials -- until the memorial plaza was built.

Matuza said he had come to the 10th year memorial at the newly unveiled plaza.

"It was better now that we have this," he said.

Matuza, who was accompanied by his mother and brothers, said he planned to spend the morning at the memorial before having a light lunch.

"It's not as upsetting as it was at first," he said "It feels better for me to come down here now."

Thelma Stuart, 43, lost her husband, Walwyn Wellington Stuart Jr., a Port Authority police officer from Valley Stream, on Sept. 11, 2001. His remains were never identified.

On the 11th anniversary, at the memorial to the victims, Stuart and her daughter, Amanda, placed a long, white piece of paper over the black parapet and rubbed it with pencils until her husband's name was visible. She plans to frame it for Amanda, who was less than a year old when her father died, to pass on to future generations.

"I'm going to keep it and I will always have it," said Amanda, who turns 12 on Sept. 28. "So when I grow up, I am going to show my children their grandpa."

For Stuart, it reminds her of the sacrifice her husband made on 9/11.

"It's tangible," Stuart said. "It's the historical nature of that -- my husband's name is actually on a memorial wall."

The memorial, which opened last year, gives Stuart the peace and tranquillity she yearns for. The falling water, she said, soothes her.

"Generations after generations are going to come to see this -- my husband's name and what he did on that day."

When the rising sun touched the face of Tina Cosentino as the memorial service started at Ground Zero Tuesday, she closed her eyes and had time to think about what she had lost and what she had gained in the 11 years since 9/11.

Just yards from where Cosentino stood, her childhood friend Brian David Sweeney, of Massachussettsy went to his death aboard Flight 175 as it crashed into the south tower. Not long after the terror attacks, Sweeney said her husband left her, leaving her to raise their three boys. One son -- Mattie -- has a terminal illness that leaves him sapped of strength and tied to continuous hospital treatments. Her two other sons are Nicholas, 17, and John, 13

But in the strange way fate and serendipity have worked for some after that fateful day, Cosentino, 44, who lives in Massachusetts, has seen her world and that of her ill son expand in ways she never imagined, when members of the FDNY came into their lives.

"I gained a whole family of support," said Cosentino. "His world was so small and now I can go anywhere in this city, in the five boroughs, there are no boundaries for us."

It was in the run up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 that Cosentino met now retired FDNY battalion chief Jack Pritchard of Staten Island and his wife on the USS New York, the naval ship that was built with steel recovered from Ground Zero.

. After looking at pictures of Pritchard, Mattie, now 14, saw him as the quintessential fireman, with his vivid silver hair and mustache. Told the story of her son and his interest in becoming either a firefighter or a pilot, Pritchard said Mattie had to be a fireman, recalled Cosentino.

During a trip to the so-called "Jolly Rogers" firehouse on Rogers Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn, home to Ladder 157 and Engine 255, she and her son were taken up in a bucket of one of the trucks, an experience that thrilled them both, said Cosentino. The daughter of a firefighter in Medford, Mass., Cosentino said her son's world has grown beyond his home and the hospital. .

"Jack has given him a world to belong to," said Cosentino.

Tuesday, she and Pritchard embraced as the names of the dead were read during the ceremony. Later Cosentino and her friends, including Sweeney's wife and Pritchard and his wife, walked to the memorial.

With Emily Ngo

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