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Two decades on, Long Island remembers Sept. 11, 2001, a date still hard to forget

Twin beams of light shoot up over a

Twin beams of light shoot up over a lifeguard stand at the Town of Oyster Bay's September 11 memorial service Thursday night at Tobay Beach. Memorials are planned this weekend on Long Island and across the metropolitan area to mark 20 years since the terrorist attacks. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Not a cloud is forecast for the morning of September 11, with temperatures around 70 degrees — almost identical to the clear blue sky above the World Trade Center 20 years ago, before terrorists flew the first of two hijacked jetliners into the Twin Towers.

Nearly 1 in 5 who perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in lower Manhattan were Long Islanders — two-thirds from Nassau and the rest from Suffolk. They were bankers, brokers, insurers, cops, firefighters, technicians, engineers and secretaries, but so much more. They were also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, husbands, wives, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends.

At ceremonies Saturday across Long Island, which nearly 500 of the slain called home, and starting at Ground Zero, where all 2,753 people died, names will be read aloud and bells tolled in memoriam. Stories will be retold of a day that made widows and orphans and sickened rescuers with often-dormant ailments. Saturday also will bring reminders that the attacks catalyzed two American wars — including in Afghanistan, America's longest war, that ended just last month after two decades — and strengthened airport security, tested civil liberties and upended American politics.

"For most people around the United States, even on Long Island, even in New York, for many people, it’s 20 years. It’s literally 20 years," said John Feal, a first responder from Nesconset who lost half of his left foot after working to clear rubble from Ground Zero.

"But for those directly affected by 9/11, for those who lost a loved one that day, for those who lost a loved one who ran into harm’s way, for those who got sick and those that lost a loved one from a 9/11-related illness," Feal said, "it’s the longest day in the history of days. It’s a day that hasn’t ended."

In all, there were 2,983 people killed when terrorists connected to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden attacked — at the World Trade Center, both in 2001 and in a 1993 bombing, as well as at the Pentagon and aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania following a passenger mutiny. Two of the 44 aboard were Long Islanders: a passenger originally from Sag Harbor and the plane's first officer, from Plainview.

President Joe Biden plans to visit all three sites Saturday.

At New York's main ceremony, to be held at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in lower Manhattan, moments of silence will mark the times the hijacked planes struck the buildings, as well as the times the buildings collapsed. For hours, the names of the dead will be recited by a procession of loved ones and strangers.

In Farmingdale, in Bohemia, in Commack, at Point Lookout and beyond, there are smaller ceremonies for lost Long Islanders.

The St. James Fire Department is hosting a remembrance at its 9/11 memorial — made with steel from the Ground Zero wreckage. The ceremony, at 11 a.m. outside department headquarters, has been observed since the memorial was built a decade ago. The ceremony will include veterans groups, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, a high school chamber choir singing the national anthem, a 21-gun salute and the playing of "taps." But this year, being the 20th anniversary, "a lot of the politicians want to come down, so some of those guys will be there," said Tom Donohue, chairman of the memorial and a St. James fire commissioner.

"I got two young boys who weren’t even born at the time," said Donohue, who helped out at Ground Zero for about a month and a half after the attacks, "and I wanted to preserve a piece of the history, knowing it’s very hard to visualize from TV."

Saturday's memorial, at 221 Jefferson Ave., has become a solemn site of reflection and prayer, Donohue said, so "we have to keep the place pristine 365 days out of the year."

"A lot of people have shown up at the site, basically, and told us, they never recovered any remains of their loved ones, so it kind of became, in a sense — it’s a grave site too," he said.

At Islip Town Hall, the local victims' names are to be read at 11 a.m. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church of Islip, at 754 Montauk Hwy., is opening at 4:30 p.m. for those who want to pray in solitude. On the lawn, there will be a gathering to share memories. A prayer service is to follow.

Angie Carpenter, the Islip Town supervisor, said 90 Islip residents were killed in the attacks, "and obviously there have been many more that have died because of post-9/11 related illnesses."

She retold a familiar story to families with loved ones in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001: Scrambling to find out whether her own daughter-in-law, who was pregnant and working in the city, was OK. It took hours to get through and confirm she was, Carpenter said.

Now, 20 years later, Carpenter hopes the legacy of Sept. 11, 2001, won't be forsaken: "My granddaughter, who was not even born at the time — her mom was pregnant with her at the time — knows about it, hears about it, and respects the memories of all those who were lost."

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