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Local 9/11 memorial struggles to add names

Melissa Colleluori of Bethpage at 9/11 Responders Park

Melissa Colleluori of Bethpage at 9/11 Responders Park in Nesconset. (Sept. 9, 2012) Credit: Steven Sunshine

Marching in solemn procession, uniformed military service members joined local residents last year in opening a memorial in Nesconset for rescue and construction workers who died from illnesses contracted at the site of the World Trade Center.

Organizers said then their goal was to honor as many as 1,000 police officers, firefighters and laborers stricken after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

But one year after the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park was dedicated, a marble slate there bears only 118 names. Two more panels are blank.

Organizers -- including local residents, former trade center cleanup workers and survivors of victims -- acknowledge they have struggled to add names to the memorial.

"We were hoping it would have gotten done a lot sooner," said John Feal, a trustee of the group that built the park.

More than 90 of the 118 names were added to the wall last week, said Feal, of Nesconset, a construction worker injured during the trade center cleanup who has become a nationally known advocate for sick and injured responders. Organizers say the park is the only one in the world honoring workers who died from illnesses linked to their work at the site.

The park is largely a volunteer effort: Local residents maintain the site, at Gibbs Pond Road and Smithtown Boulevard, and an engraver carves victims' names at no cost. The land was donated by Suffolk County and the Town of Smithtown.

Marty Aponte, president of the organizing committee, said placing a name on the wall takes time because the group verifies everything -- from the spelling of the name to the person's rank if he or she belonged to a police or fire agency.

"Once we put that on there, we can't retract [it]," said Aponte, of Hauppauge.

Feal said victims are not added without permission of their families, and the group ensures that each responder's illness was linked to the trade center cleanup.

"We still have to add names every couple of months to keep up," he said. "All these people have to be vetted, their families have to be contacted."

He and others praised the engraver, who declined to comment and requested that he not be identified.

Organizers said they had no plans to hold ceremonies this week. They said they are planning an event, but no date has been set.

"It's a learning process for myself and the executive board," Aponte said. "As time goes on, things will get better."

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