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Commack district to unveil 9/11 memorial

9/11 memorial at Commack High School, Commack. (Sept.

9/11 memorial at Commack High School, Commack. (Sept. 7, 2012) Credit: Heather Walsh

On a recent sunny afternoon, Jack Schroeder silently prayed in front of a large granite monument behind Commack High School. Engraved in black was the name: "John T. Schroeder."

Jack Schroeder's oldest child, John, a stock trader, was killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Schroeder said he was told his son was at a breakfast in the Windows on the World restaurant when the first hijacked plane struck.

"You feel sad and you miss him," Schroeder said later of seeing his son's inscription. "It's hard to put into words. You sort of well up inside."

Since Sept. 11, Schroeder said, he has visited the site of the attacks several times a year, especially on his son's birthday in June. Last week, he went to Commack after hearing about the memorial erected to honor residents who died and families who lost someone that day, and that his son's name would be on it.

Schroeder said he visited before the anniversary because he wouldn't be able to make the official unveiling Tuesday at 6.

The district has held 9/11 anniversary events for the last 10 years. Last year, community relations consultant Debbie Virga was notified Commack would receive a piece of World Trade Center steel. A committee of 15 students, staffers, alumni and residents worked for about a year to create the memorial.

"It was just a big community undertaking and an experience I will never forget," said Justin Corben, 17, a senior who was part of the student group that wrote the dedication gracing a side of the monument.

"It was nice to see the kids got involved," Schroeder said. "It makes you feel that some people remember."

The Gappsi Group, a Smithtown home improvement company, helped with the design and donated supplies and labor. Owner Giuseppe Abbrancati valued the work at about $30,000.

Several stone walkways lead to the granite monument, where the piece of steel is perched. One path is paved with dozens of bricks etched with names of victims and families or messages such as "never forget." The phrase was one of the driving forces behind the memorial's inception and design.

Standing near the monument, Jack Schroeder fought back tears, remembering that John was an avid reader and music lover, and a talented lacrosse player on high school and college teams, and on club squads after his schooling was done. Schroeder said his son attended Commack schools until third grade, transferred to Catholic schools and graduated from St. Anthony's High School in South Huntington.

"This is for people like you and your son," Nicole McMahon, 24, told Schroeder as he said goodbye. McMahon, a Commack graduate, her brother Shaun, a Commack senior, and their father Rich were on the memorial committee and also had a deep connection to 9/11.

Rich McMahon, a Brooklyn firefighter, was a first responder, spending hours at Ground Zero helping with rescue efforts.

"I want people to remember," he said, adding that having the memorial on school property will raise awareness about 9/11 for younger generations.

"This is a reminder for us to never forget," said Corben, a family friend. "It is important to remember how everything in the world changed that day."ON THE MEMORIAL

Ezra Aviles A Commack resident who worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Benilda Domingo An employee at Windows on the World, whose children now live with their aunt in Commack

James Munhall A member of the class of 1974 who worked at Sandler O'Neill

Dennis Scauso FDNY member and Commack High School class of 1973

John T. Schroeder A stock trader for Fred Alger and a former Commack resident who went to the district's schools through third grade

Joseph A. Kelly A member of the class of 1978 who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald

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