“No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” wrote Roman poet Virgil in his masterwork Aeneid nearly two-thousand years ago. Twenty centuries later, the quote has come echoing back through time, expressing what many feel to be an ineffable, inarticulate, and utterly indescribable day in the unfolding of our world’s history: September 11, 2001.
This quote has featured prominently at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, where it is inscribed amongst a mosaic paneling of blue, meant to represent the vivid sky as the sun rose on New York City that fateful morning. Virgil’s words are now commonly invoked during 9/11 remembrances, including at the 9/11 Remembrance Vigil that took place at Northport High School just last night. Spectators arriving at the high school were somberly greeted by 2,983 American flags lining the campus’ border — one flag for every life lost.
With co-organizer and the night’s Master of Ceremonies Darryl St. George at the helm, himself an NHS social studies teacher and former Navy corpsman, the night of solemn remembrance began with a performance of the National Anthem by Northport’s Tiger Marching Band. Band members performed in the shadow of a vast American flag, with each of its red, white, and blue corners suspended high above the gathering crowd by fire engine cranes.
As the vigil commenced, programs stating the night’s objective were handed out.
“Today, we honor the 2,983 individuals who perished in the 9/11 attacks as well as the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. We remember the passengers and crew members of the planes. We remember the office workers in both the Pentagon and W.T.C. We remember the heroic volunteers and first responders, hundreds of whom made the ultimate sacrifice,” the program read.
In addition to the night as a vessel for heroic remembrance, St. George also wished the event to remind all those students and community members of “the significance of that day.” St. George explained simply, “When I say that we need to make sure people don’t forget, I think people are forgetting.”
St. George was in New York City attending college when the towers fell in 2001; that experience instilled in him a lifelong sense of commitment to his country.
“In that moment it was not practical for me to drop everything and leave,” St. George explained in a conversation with the Journal. Ten years later, he would take a leave of absence from his teaching position at Northport High School to enlist in the military. His decision to enlist was one of utmost importance, and now was as good a time as any, he said. “Typically if someone does go into the military with a college degree or more, they usually go in as officers. But I didn’t do that – I enlisted,” St. George said. He was deployed in 2011 to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
St. George believes his career as a history teacher walks right alongside his military one. “My thought was that if I continued my studies and I became a history teacher, that would be a way for me to do my part and try to serve, and strive towards this larger objective of ensuring that another 9/11 would never happen again… I felt that if I taught history, then I’d do my job well enough that my students would understand the historical events that led to 9/11...Whatever their role would be, hopefully they would take those lessons and do their part as a citizen and make sure that there wasn’t another 9/11 ever again,” he explained.
After St. George’s opening remarks, Superintendent of Schools Robert Banzer welcomed a large gathering of community members to the event. He mentioned a remembrance ceremony that students participated in at the high school earlier in the day.
“It’s noteworthy that none of our students were born when the attacks took place, making this truly a historic event for them. Since they have not experienced this event personally, it is our obligation to come together as a community, as we are tonight, for events like this, and earlier today, to remind ourselves never to forget.”
Northport High School principal Robert Dennis, who Mr. St. George said was instrumental in the planning of the event, followed, recalling the “non-alarmist, seemingly normal tone from news anchors as they unknowingly announced the most important and arguably tragic days of our lifetime, as morning events were beginning to take shape as usual.”
“Today, almost exactly 20 days later, our nation remembers the everyday citizens and heroes whose lives were tragically taken that day,” he said.
And then, in perhaps the evening’s most emotional moment, lifelong East Northport resident, volunteer East Northport firefighter and paramedic Robert Farrelly was introduced to the podium, where he spoke of his harrowing connection to the tragic events that occurred on September 11, 2001, his second day of high school. Farrelly was just fourteen years old when his father, Tom, was killed after the planes struck the World Trade Center, where he worked.
Farrelly remembered his father as the “quintessential Northport dad, always going above and beyond for his community.” He was funny, kind and spirited, Robert said, an active community resident, and a passionate assistant Scoutmaster. Robert recalled, via a letter written by a family friend shortly after 9/11, their last Boy Scout outing together – a “high-adventure trip” in the company of his father, a fellow Scout leader, and five other high school boys, into the wilderness of Maine during the last week of August. They spent a week canoeing and camping deep in the high country up into the Labor Day weekend. Tom was looking forward to sharing pictures of the trip at the first meeting of the season, scheduled for Wednesday, September 12, “a day which never came for Mr. Farrelly,” Robert read.
This opportunity for individual remembrance was precisely what St. George intended the ceremony to evoke. Eight residents of Northport/East Northport were killed in the September 11 attacks; their names, including Tom Farrelly’s, are inscribed on the 9/11 memorial stone at the entrance to Northport Village Park.
A moment of silence followed the night’s candlelight vigil, after which the names of all 2,893 individuals who perished in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania in both 2001 and 1993 were read aloud simultaneously, by community members. The moment of silence came to a close as Tiger Marching Band officer and trumpet player Michael Perrino projected a sobering “Taps” into the air. Seven carnations were then placed at the base of the Freedom Fountain, by Robert Farrelly and the Engeman and Scherer families, local Northport and East Northport families who lost their sons, John Engeman and Christopher Scherer, in Iraq.
Each carnation represented a specific event of September 11, 2001, including two carnations for each Twin Tower, one for the Pentagon, and one for Pennsylvania.
After recounting the emotional story of Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain of the New York Fire Department and the first documented casualty of 9/11. St. George, who teaches a course at the high school devoted to 9/11, ended the evening’s events by recalling the hundreds of people, “carried on by such love that they gave their lives to save as many as possible.”
“Where there was evil, good responded,” St. George said, recounting the story of Joseph, from the book of Genesis, a story that is a fundamental part of the religious narratives for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, he said. He spoke of the survivors of 9/11, all the lives preserved by the selfless actions of so many heroes that fateful day.
“We’ve got to remember 9/11, and make sure that we not only remember it, but that it carries on in our actions,” he said. He spoke of the days immediately following September 11, days in which he witnessed incredible acts of kindness in the city, “all because we came together,” he said. “We were united. We must begin to learn to talk to one another again, and be civil. 9/11 offers us a profoundly important opportunity for us to do this. This is our chance.”
For anyone who missed last night’s remembrance, the East Northport Fire Department is holding a 9/11 Candlelight Vigil at 8pm this evening, at its Ninth Avenue headquarters.