By Kira Ratan and Barrett Seaman—
Like other Americans in towns and villages all across the country, citizens of the rivertowns turned out on a crisp and clear September 11th that was, by appearance, uncannily like the one 20 years ago that changed the country, if not the world.
At ceremonies in Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow (the latter two combined at Patriots Park), speaker after speaker reflected less on the horror of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people than on the powerful sense of unity that emerged from it.
Irvington Mayor Brian Smith, speaking at the village’s Scenic Hudson Park, framed by the Manhattan skyline behind him, recalled the innocence of Sept. 10, lost the next day but then replaced by “the best of humanity.”
On Sept. 12 and in the days that followed, he said, “In many ways, we never felt more American. Blood banks filled; donations to charities soared; volunteerism increased. Everywhere you looked, there were American flags.”
“We were one,” proclaimed Sleepy Hollow Fire Department’s Chief Engineer John Korzelius. “You look at the news today and the world has become separated — separated by every category you could possibly imagine. You look back on that day 20 years ago and the weeks that followed after, and there was no separation. We weren’t Republicans, we weren’t Democrats, we weren’t one particular race or gender. We were Americans, and more importantly, we were human beings.”
In every 9/11 event in the villages, credit went to the first responders for rallying the country. “We have to remember,” said Dobbs Ferry Mayor Vincent Rossillo, “that it was the first responders then who were walking up those buildings as everyone else was rushing down.”
One of them was Irvington volunteer fireman Kevin Gallagher, who was a New York City Police officer and full-time diver at the time of the attacks. He took the village’s Fire Boat #4 with a crew down to Manhattan. He did not emerge from the rubble of the twin towers for seven straight days, while the fire boat and its crew took part in the evacuation of more than 500,000 people — more than were rescued in 1940 from Dunkirk in an entire week.
Gallagher recalls working into the night alongside fellow police officers and firefighters, when the only sound was the clinking of shovels and “the unique alarm” firefighters had on their kits that would go off when they stopped moving. When someone heard that sound, they would call out, and the entire “pile,” as they called the remains of the twin towers, would fall silent while they searched for its source.
First responders, said State Assemblyman Tom Abinanti at the Dobbs Ferry ceremony, “are the best of America. They did what Americans do when people are in trouble.”
Implicit in the praise for the first responders and in the acknowledgement of those who died that day was a cry for a return to that unity. “Everyone should remember the strength of our country coming together,” urged veteran Dobbs Ferry fireman Neil Sweeting.
“Our challenge,” said State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins near the close of the Patriots Park ceremony, “is going to be regaining that spirit of unity that was so much a part of our resilience.”