The pouring rain Saturday morning did not keep more than 400 people from solemnly gathering at 9/11 Responders Remembered Park in Nesconset to honor first responders who died from illnesses related to their heroic efforts at Ground Zero.
One hundred names were added to three, 20-foot-long, 6-foot-high walls of granite at the park. Each name was read aloud, followed by the ringing of a bell.
"We should be giving thanks to the 100 names we added and the 500 that are on the wall, because they give us validity," said John Feal, president of the FealGood Foundation, a nonprofit that helped raise money to build the park.
With umbrellas hoisted and a large flag suspended by two fire trucks on Gibbs Pond Road, at the semiannual ceremony in its fifth year, brought out first responders, families who lost loved ones and politicians alike.
Visitors expressed gratitude and shed tears at the event, which included a bagpipe rendition of "God Bless America," playing of "Taps," and acoustic performances.
"This park stands for the principle that while so many of those first responders . . . no longer stand among us, they will always be remembered and honored for standing up and responding at our nation's most dire moment," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.
Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. said, "Through the life of our country, brave men and women . . . have stepped forward and said, 'Enough! We will never bend.' . . . That is what each and every one of these 9/11 responders did."
Jeanne Stelmok, 41, of North Babylon, who visited the park for the first time, said she planned to return to "come and grieve, reflect on memories." Her husband Scott Stelmok, 46, a retired NYPD captain who helped usher people to hospitals on 9/11 and sorted through debris, died in December.
"He had colon cancer, liver cancer, brain cancer, lung cancer . . . it's been a lot," Stelmok said. "He wasn't a complainer."
Jeanne Stelmok's daughter Ashley, 19, and her mother, Anna Green, 67, of Batavia in western New York, used a crayon and paper to trace over Stelmok's name on the wall as a keepsake.
Joan Ferguson-Quailey, of Tampa, Florida, attended the ceremony with family to honor her brother O.J. Ferguson, 42, of Rochdale, Queens.
O.J. Ferguson -- a New York City inspector for the Department of Transportation who, family said, suffered from breathing problems after putting in 600 hours at Ground Zero -- died last month.
"This helps the family. We can always come at any time," said Ferguson-Quailey about the park, as the sun began shining. "It's always there to remind you of those who sacrificed their life and their time and their love for this country and for others. . . . It gives me chills."
Judi Simmons, 48, of Nesconset, whose husband Marty Simmons, 41 -- anFDNY firefighter who helped in 9/11 recovery efforts for months, ultimately having a lump in his chest surgically removed -- died in 2008.
"He didn't like to talk about it because of everything that he saw. The little that he did tell me was he could only equate it to being in war. . . . They only recovered four out of the five firefighters from his house," she said, referencing to Ladder 111, with tears in her eyes. "I think he felt if he kept going he could find" the other firefighter.
Simmons, who is vice president of the park and whose three sons helped read new names etched on the wall, said her work was rewarding. "I want to be here for other families," she said, choking up, "to tell them that you get through it and that they'll be OK."