Rob Schardt, then age 3, sits on the back of...

Rob Schardt, then age 3, sits on the back of his father, FDNY Firefighter John Schardt, with brother Chris, age 1, in August 2001 at Montauk’s Gin Beach. Schardt, 34, was killed weeks later in the World Trade Center attacks. Credit: Schardt family

Nowadays, fewer bells toll to commemorate 9/11. 

Fewer people muster at public ceremonies, and fewer of those ceremonies are being held. There have been so many deaths from 9/11-related ailments linked to Ground Zero toxin exposure that the toll now eclipses the number killed the day of the attack. There are thousands fewer eyewitnesses to bear witness.

The call to “never forget” — the post-9/11 slogan that is at once command, cope, plea and hope — is being put to the test as that terrible Tuesday and its aftermath recede into history.

Sunday is the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — when terrorists conspiring with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida flew two hijacked jetliners into the Twin Towers, killing 2,753 people.

Nearly 1 in 5 of those who died were Long Islanders — two-thirds from Nassau and a third from Suffolk. Hundreds more people died when a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, outside Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

“Towns throughout the country used to hold moments of silence on 9/11, every single year like clockwork,” said Matthew Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

Some have announced those moments are being discontinued; some have ceased doing so without announcement.

“The idea of ‘we will never forget’ is simply an impossibility as memory fades — or memory never forms — of an event, because the next generation comes along,” he said.

“Never forget” is unlikely to mean perpetual commemoration, according to William Hirst, a psychology professor at Manhattan's New School for Social Research who studies memory.

He predicted that attendance at memorial ceremonies, such as those happening across the region Sunday for the anniversary, would continue to decline.

“We will probably end up stopping commemorating 9/11 at some point,” Hirst said.

For the families of those killed in the attacks, remembrance and grief evolve but do not end.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, describing how his eyes were welling up in tears, still alternates between the present and past tense when recounting how his nephew, a court officer named Thomas Jurgens, 26, of Meadowmere Park in the Five Towns, was killed while trying to help evacuate Tower Two.

Jurgens’ badge and pistol were later found, but like about 40% of those who died at Ground Zero, his remains have not been recovered and identified.

“It really doesn’t get any easier. It’s always a day that we dread, September 11th, because it brings back so many horrible memories,” Blakeman, back then a commissioner of the Port Authority, which owns the Trade Center site, said Thursday.

Fewer people than years ago attend the annual recitation of victims’ names at Ground Zero each Sept. 11 morning. Fewer also attend other ceremonies, such as the long-running tribute in Nassau at Eisenhower Park, where Blakeman plans Sunday evening to memorialize his nephew, spokesman Christopher Boyle said.

For Rob Schardt, now 24, his memories of his FDNY firefighter dad, John, 34, never returning home after rushing to Ground Zero are secondhand, vicariously through his mom. The boy was 3 that Tuesday, his first day of preschool.

“I don’t remember that vivid thing of her telling me, but over the years I asked, like, how I found out, and she said, ‘you kept asking me, and eventually I had to break the news to you that he wasn’t coming home anymore,’” Schardt said, adding: “I know she told me I cried and I was very upset for a long time, then I eventually grew to terms with it.”

Weeks before the attack, Rob was sitting on his dad’s back in Montauk at Gin Beach.

Schardt, who attends an FDNY luncheon on 9/11, says the shrinking of public remembrances doesn't faze him.

“It really doesn’t affect me too much. I really don’t think about it at all. I’m just really happy to be around my loved ones — be around my mom, be around my brothers, be around everyone in my family, really. It’s the coming of everyone together to honor his legacy is what matters to me the most.”

Shay Mahon, now 22, who grew up in Locust Valley and just moved to the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, has only photos and stories of her dad, 37-year-old Thomas Mahon, who worked on the 105th floor of Tower 1 at the stock and bond trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees in the attacks. 

“I was so young. I was 21 months old. I have absolutely no memory of my dad,” she said.

She feels her father’s memory as she looks out into the Manhattan skyline and sees the newly built One World Trade Center complex or along MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village near her apartment and sees where her dad once lived, she said. His memory is both an inspiration — and a challenge.

“For me,” she said, “9/11 now is more of a day to honor him rather than grieve his death.”

Jeffrey Hyson, an assistant professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who has taught courses on public history and memory, said that for the victims and their families, there was a desire to “personalize those traumas to make clear that these people were not statistics, they were not merely part of some broad political or social cataclysm, but they had lives, they had families, they had stories.”

“But I think there’s also an understandable desire,” he said, “to go beyond that and to make sure that there are broader lessons learned and remembered from those, and that’s of course where things can get political: What are those lessons? Who are those lessons for?”

Even as memories fade, and fewer people are alive to remember that day and the dead, the geopolitical legacy continues to ripple across the United States and the world — in two American wars, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, that have killed hundreds of thousands, at strengthened airport checkpoints and restrictions, in constricted civil liberties, in a ballooned security state, and in a reordering of American politics.

Human memory — including of 9/11 — is not infallible.

Researchers looking at how 9/11 memories change over time surveyed people right after, a year later, three years later, and a decade later, according to one of those who did the study, Elizabeth Phelps, a psychology professor at Harvard.

“Most people who experienced 9/11,” she said, “they will tell you, ‘this is where I was, this is what I was doing, I remember exactly what happened.'”

But what the study found is that about 40% to 50% of those personal details change after a year, “even though people are highly, highly confident that they know exactly what happened.”

Past national traumas have faded from public memory — the Pearl Harbor attack, the world wars, the Spanish flu pandemic, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and of Martin Luther King.

The Civil War was the beginning of memorialization in the United States, and there are more monuments — tens of thousands nationwide — to that conflict than to any other event in American history, said Warshauer, the history professor at Central Connecticut State University. He noted that the proliferation of Civil War monuments, north and south, often go unnoticed.

“We probably pass by Civil War monuments, many of us on a drive-by on a daily basis. Yet we don’t even know what they are, because they become white noise. We’re too far out generationally from them — until something else causes us to see them in a different light.”

Nowadays, fewer bells toll to commemorate 9/11.

Fewer people muster at public ceremonies, and fewer of those ceremonies are being held. There have been so many deaths from 9/11-related ailments linked to Ground Zero toxin exposure that the toll now eclipses the number killed the day of the attack. There are thousands fewer eyewitnesses to bear witness.

The call to “never forget” — the post-9/11 slogan that is at once command, cope, plea and hope — is being put to the test as that terrible Tuesday and its aftermath recede into history.

Sunday is the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — when terrorists conspiring with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida flew two hijacked jetliners into the Twin Towers, killing 2,753 people.

Nearly 1 in 5 of those who died were Long Islanders — two-thirds from Nassau and a third from Suffolk. Hundreds more people died when a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, outside Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

“Towns throughout the country used to hold moments of silence on 9/11, every single year like clockwork,” said Matthew Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

Some have announced those moments are being discontinued; some have ceased doing so without announcement.

“The idea of ‘we will never forget’ is simply an impossibility as memory fades — or memory never forms — of an event, because the next generation comes along,” he said.

Fewer attend commemorations

“Never forget” is unlikely to mean perpetual commemoration, according to William Hirst, a psychology professor at Manhattan's New School for Social Research who studies memory.

He predicted that attendance at memorial ceremonies, such as those happening across the region Sunday for the anniversary, would continue to decline.

“We will probably end up stopping commemorating 9/11 at some point,” Hirst said.

For the families of those killed in the attacks, remembrance and grief evolve but do not end.

Court officer Thomas Jurgens, nephew of Nassau County Executive Bruce...

Court officer Thomas Jurgens, nephew of Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, was killed while trying to help evacuate Tower Two on Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: Office of Bruce Blakeman

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, describing how his eyes were welling up in tears, still alternates between the present and past tense when recounting how his nephew, a court officer named Thomas Jurgens, 26, of Meadowmere Park in the Five Towns, was killed while trying to help evacuate Tower Two.

Jurgens’ badge and pistol were later found, but like about 40% of those who died at Ground Zero, his remains have not been recovered and identified.

“It really doesn’t get any easier. It’s always a day that we dread, September 11th, because it brings back so many horrible memories,” Blakeman, back then a commissioner of the Port Authority, which owns the Trade Center site, said Thursday.

Fewer people than years ago attend the annual recitation of victims’ names at Ground Zero each Sept. 11 morning. Fewer also attend other ceremonies, such as the long-running tribute in Nassau at Eisenhower Park, where Blakeman plans Sunday evening to memorialize his nephew, spokesman Christopher Boyle said.

Rob Schardt, who is now 24, says his memories of his FDNY firefighter...

Rob Schardt, who is now 24, says his memories of his FDNY firefighter dad, John Schardt, never returning home after rushing to Ground Zero are secondhand, vicariously through his mom. Credit: Schardt family

Few memories of slain fathers

For Rob Schardt, now 24, his memories of his FDNY firefighter dad, John, 34, never returning home after rushing to Ground Zero are secondhand, vicariously through his mom. The boy was 3 that Tuesday, his first day of preschool.

“I don’t remember that vivid thing of her telling me, but over the years I asked, like, how I found out, and she said, ‘you kept asking me, and eventually I had to break the news to you that he wasn’t coming home anymore,’” Schardt said, adding: “I know she told me I cried and I was very upset for a long time, then I eventually grew to terms with it.”

Weeks before the attack, Rob was sitting on his dad’s back in Montauk at Gin Beach.

Schardt, who attends an FDNY luncheon on 9/11, says the shrinking of public remembrances doesn't faze him.

“It really doesn’t affect me too much. I really don’t think about it at all. I’m just really happy to be around my loved ones — be around my mom, be around my brothers, be around everyone in my family, really. It’s the coming of everyone together to honor his legacy is what matters to me the most.”

Shay Mahon, who grew up in Locust Valley and is...

Shay Mahon, who grew up in Locust Valley and is now 22, has only photos and stories of her father, Thomas Mahon, who was killed on 9/11 while working on the 105th floor of Tower One at the stock and bond trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald. Credit: Mahon family photos

Shay Mahon, now 22, who grew up in Locust Valley and just moved to the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, has only photos and stories of her dad, 37-year-old Thomas Mahon, who worked on the 105th floor of Tower 1 at the stock and bond trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees in the attacks. 

“I was so young. I was 21 months old. I have absolutely no memory of my dad,” she said.

She feels her father’s memory as she looks out into the Manhattan skyline and sees the newly built One World Trade Center complex or along MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village near her apartment and sees where her dad once lived, she said. His memory is both an inspiration — and a challenge.

“For me,” she said, “9/11 now is more of a day to honor him rather than grieve his death.”

Legacy of 9/11 still ripples

Jeffrey Hyson, an assistant professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who has taught courses on public history and memory, said that for the victims and their families, there was a desire to “personalize those traumas to make clear that these people were not statistics, they were not merely part of some broad political or social cataclysm, but they had lives, they had families, they had stories.”

“But I think there’s also an understandable desire,” he said, “to go beyond that and to make sure that there are broader lessons learned and remembered from those, and that’s of course where things can get political: What are those lessons? Who are those lessons for?”

Even as memories fade, and fewer people are alive to remember that day and the dead, the geopolitical legacy continues to ripple across the United States and the world — in two American wars, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, that have killed hundreds of thousands, at strengthened airport checkpoints and restrictions, in constricted civil liberties, in a ballooned security state, and in a reordering of American politics.

Friends and family members gather Sept. 11, 2013, at the Sept....

Friends and family members gather Sept. 11, 2013, at the Sept. 11 memorial in Manhattan for ceremonies to mark the 12th anniversary of the terror attacks.  Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Human memory — including of 9/11 — is not infallible.

Researchers looking at how 9/11 memories change over time surveyed people right after, a year later, three years later, and a decade later, according to one of those who did the study, Elizabeth Phelps, a psychology professor at Harvard.

“Most people who experienced 9/11,” she said, “they will tell you, ‘this is where I was, this is what I was doing, I remember exactly what happened.'”

But what the study found is that about 40% to 50% of those personal details change after a year, “even though people are highly, highly confident that they know exactly what happened.”

Past national traumas have faded from public memory — the Pearl Harbor attack, the world wars, the Spanish flu pandemic, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and of Martin Luther King.

The Civil War was the beginning of memorialization in the United States, and there are more monuments — tens of thousands nationwide — to that conflict than to any other event in American history, said Warshauer, the history professor at Central Connecticut State University. He noted that the proliferation of Civil War monuments, north and south, often go unnoticed.

“We probably pass by Civil War monuments, many of us on a drive-by on a daily basis. Yet we don’t even know what they are, because they become white noise. We’re too far out generationally from them — until something else causes us to see them in a different light.”