Six days after the 21st anniversary of 9/11, hundreds gathered Saturday in Nesconset for a ceremony that underscored how the terrorist attacks continue to quietly kill, in hospital rooms and bedrooms, of diseases that rob lives over years.
The annual ceremony honored the 384 people whose names were engraved over the past several days in the three large granite walls of 9/11 Responders Remembered Park, which memorializes responders who died of 9/11-related diseases, bringing the total to 1,990, said Judi Simmons, president of the nonprofit that oversees the monument. Most of the 384 had died over the past year.
“It took 11 years to fill the other side of the wall,” said John Feal, who helped create the memorial in 2011. "It’s going to take four years to fill this side. The fatalities are coming quicker.”
The nonprofit plans to add two more walls, he said.
The increasing pace of deaths is because some diseases — especially cancers — caused by Ground Zero toxins take many years to develop, said doctors with the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides care and screenings for people with 9/11-related diseases.
Names read at ceremony
The ceremony's centerpiece was the reciting of the 384 names. A bell rang after each name was read, as onlookers sat and stood silently, some weeping at times.
The responder’s occupation or affiliation also was read: police officer, firefighter, construction worker, sanitation employee, National Guard member. Some were simply identified as “volunteer.”
Edmonde Eades, 59, was one of them. His widow, Denise Eades, 65, said her husband was a ham radio operator and Red Cross volunteer, and he left their home, in Coeymans Hollow, near Albany, for Manhattan to help responders communicate. He died on Nov. 11 of lung and respiratory illnesses, said Eades, who traveled from her current home in Ocala, Florida, for the ceremony.
“He was just one of those guys who wanted to help,” she said. “Even after he got sick and had all those illnesses, he said he’d go back in a heartbeat.”
Debbie Slavin, 64, of Rockville Centre, said her husband, NYPD Lt. Zachary Slavin, had just returned home from an overnight shift when he heard about the attacks. After the second plane hit the south tower, he told her, “I’ve got to go in,” she recalled.
“No one called him in,” Slavin said. “He just knew this was a moment when the community, the people, the city, everybody, needed help. He knew he had to be there. He personally recovered two bodies. We have to remember, these people run to danger when everybody else runs from it.”
Making impressions of names
Slavin was one of many family members and friends of responders who, after the ceremony, looked for loved ones’ engraved names and pressed wax paper against them, rubbing crayon or pencil to create an impression.
Ron Vega made impressions of his friend and co-worker Charles Kaczorowski, of Hempstead. The two worked together in the New York City Department of Design and Construction and then, in separate shifts, spent months at Ground Zero. Kaczorowski died in December of heart failure and had other diseases, including stomach and colon cancer, Vega said.
Vega, 64, of Long Island City, Queens, who was director of design and construction for the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan, has several 9/11-related illnesses as well, including post-traumatic stress disorder, asthma and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
He recalled how initially he and other responders didn’t want to talk about their illnesses.
“In my mind, it was an admission that the terrorists continued to win,” he said.
But as time went on, they began to discuss them more openly, Vega said. The wall is an important way to remember those like his friend Charles Kaczorowski who died years after the attacks, he said.
“None of these folks are on the 9/11 Memorial, but they’re here,” Vega said. “They have a place.”