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Local memorials offer intimacy, communion

Gary Lee photographed at Fireman's Park in Lindenhurst

Gary Lee photographed at Fireman's Park in Lindenhurst where a photo of his father, Gary H. Lee, is engraved on stone as part of the local 9/11 memorial. (Sept. 9, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Four or five mornings a week, Gary Lee of West Babylon goes for an early run. His path takes him into Lindenhurst, to a garden tucked into a wooded area.

Usually, he gives a wave. Sometimes he stops to talk to his father.

"I say hi to him; I say, everyone is doing well," said Lee, 49, a respiratory therapist with a wife and two daughters. "It's kind of like I'm saying good morning . . . It sounds funny, but that's what I do."

The garden is the village's 9/11 Memorial Garden, dedicated in 2007. His father, Gary H. Lee, was one of eight Lindenhurst residents who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Their names and portraits are engraved on a low stone wall, amid benches and water flowing into a reflecting pool.

It is just one of the many memorials built in Long Island communities to honor local victims of the attack. The bodies of many victims were never recovered, and for their families, these memorials can be a place to commune with their memories.

From Rockville Centre to Garden City, Smithtown to Calverton, memorials bearing the names of the dead give testimony to the communal shock at those losses a decade ago, and a determination to honor those lost.

Lee also goes with his family to the Town of Babylon memorial near Cedar Beach. But he grew up in Lindenhurst, played Little League on the nearby sports fields. And at the garden here, he feels close to his father, a manager at Cantor Fitzgerald subsidiary eSpeed who was 62 when he died.

"It's intimate, you can actually see the faces of the people who were lost," said Lee. "My father used to watch me from the fence on this same field, so it really hits home."

Many of the local 9/11 memorials differ from those of prior eras and prior wars. Rather than upright obelisks, or statues of soldiers and eagles, they are often quiet places of contemplation and intimacy.

That was the intent of the one in Lindenhurst, said Douglas Madlon, deputy village administrator. "It's a place of solitude, where people could come and reflect and pray and be at peace," he said.

He added that while the monuments to World War I and II were celebrating "winning the battle over evil, this reflects that America was attacked and ordinary people like you and I were going to work, going about their business, and they didn't come home. It's something to think about for us all."

In East Hills, the 9/11 wreath-laying ceremony this year will take place on a small piece of ground where a memorial was constructed in 2002 by members of local synagogues. It is near the home of a local victim, Arlene Fried, and is called Arlene Park. In it is a boulder bearing a plaque with the names of all those lost from the community.

"I go at least once a year," said Fried's youngest daughter, Emily, now 26 and a social worker living in Manhattan. "I'll put a little stone on the boulder, treating it like I would a cemetery . . . that place is pretty meaningful to me."

Relatives who still live nearby plant flowers, and her grandmother, she said, had planted trees. This year, after the ceremony at Ground Zero, Fried and her two sisters will plant perennials in their mother's honor at the eldest's home in New Jersey. Their mother was general counsel for Cantor Fitzgerald, and her body was never recovered.

This anniversary, Bellport, Great Neck, Melville and Eastport will unveil new memorials, as will Southampton and St. James. Some incorporate pieces of the World Trade Center steel that are finding their way to memorials all over Long Island.

There are plaques and flags and, in some, crosses of steel. But it is the intensely personal nature of these memorials that gives comfort. Lee said, "It's helped me get through these last 10 years."

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