Jim Pepperman, 72, stood on the sidewalk outside St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Kings Park as American flags gently fluttered in a breeze. He had to be there.
“This isn’t a celebration. It’s a remembrance, something you feel you have to pay attention to,” he said. “It’s not something you can skip. It’s not a grammar school march down the street.”
Pepperman has lived in Kings Park for 40 years. Like many other people in the community that has been home to many police officers and firemen, he knew several of the people who died on Sept. 11, 2001. He listened quietly and respectfully as each of more than a dozen names of people killed that day were read aloud in a brief ceremony held under a pine tree across the street from the church.
“I don’t know if it gets better,” Pepperman said. “You get a little more used to it. That’s a terrible phrase to use. It’s a memory. A memory that haunts you.”
His son, a New York City police officer, is 44. That’s the same age that some of the police officers and firefighters killed at Ground Zero would have been. That, too, is something that haunts Pepperman.
“You get a little perspective” after 10 years, he said.
About 500 people attended the ceremony in Kings Park. Hundreds of them came straight from the church after Mass; some of them had come to Mass for an annual ceremony that has been held for the past five years — the Blessing of the Shields, a prayer to keep safe police and firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and emergency medical technicians, corrections officers and all others who serve the public.
Michelle and Matt Long, both 48, came as part of the community. “Everyone is expressing the same feelings,” she said. “We know a lot of children who lost their parents.” She said they, and others in Kings Park, have found themselves standing up at school events to show support for those children, who were 8 or 9 and are now 18 or 19.
“This shows you remember people,” Matt Long said.