Every person who took the microphone Tuesday night asked the crowd to never forget. Every year on Sept. 11, the plea is echoed on billboards, on the radio, on TV, at local ceremonies, in the newspaper, on pins, trinkets and flags.
So on each anniversary of the terror attacks that occurred what now seems a distant 11 years ago, Steven Cafiero Sr. says aloud what a lot of us can’t bear to relive.
This is how he makes people remember: He puts his reading glasses on, and he starts: “Sept. 11, 2001. It arrived at midnight and had just begun.”
For 13 minutes and 33 seconds, the Glenville man stood before a glistening Mohawk River on Tuesday evening and recited a poem. The crowd that shows up at the Water’s Edge Lighthouse Restaurant & Inn — where a mangled steel girder from the World Trade Center stands tall as a 9/11 memorial — grows smaller each year.
It’s Cafiero’s sixth time reciting the poem, a blunt narration that encapsulates each excruciating moment of the attacks, from the moment the planes hit the towers to the men and women who jumped hundreds of feet to their deaths.
His intonation is spot on. But then, his voice choking, he gets to the last line, and the crowd learns why Cafiero wants so badly for people to remember:
“Sept. 11, 2001, is also the day I lost my own son.”
More than 100 people gathered for the Water’s Edge Lighthouse sixth annual memorial ceremony. Firefighters and police officers from Schenectady, Glenville, Niskayuna and Colonie stood at attention. Al fresco diners remained seated after their meals. Community leaders and local politicians appeared reflective.
As Cafiero removed his reading glasses, a quiet melody rose from the crowd. It was one man singing “God Bless America.” Seconds later, the whole crowd was singing, and soon after, veterans were standing and waving flags.
The scene before Cafiero made him smile, his eyes rimmed with tears.
Earlier Tuesday, Charlie Friderici couldn’t help but notice the sky.
It was blue, clear and peaceful, just like that morning 11 years ago that started the same way, but quickly turned anything but peaceful.
Friderici, a past chief for Niskayuna Fire District 2, spoke Tuesday morning at Niskayuna’s remembrance ceremony, held at the flag poles at Town Hall, one of many such ceremonies held around the region and country to remember the sacrifices and losses of that day.
“We’re here to remember what happened on Sept. 11, 2001,” Friderici told gathered firefighters, police, paramedics and others. “We’re here to remember the sacrifices that were made by emergency service people, by civilians, by brave souls all around.
“We’re here to remember the innocent lives lost in moments that must have been sheer terror.”
Friderici spoke along with local clergy at a ceremony where the centerpiece was the traditional 5-5-5-5 firemen’s bell signal. Four times a firemen’s bell was rung five times, honoring those lost.
The signal is a call to lower flags to half staff, something done after the ringing. It is also a signal that firefighters know means one of their own has died, Friderici told those present.
Leaning in front of the stand holding the bell was a newspaper page mounted on a card, yellowed with age.
The page, printed weeks after the attacks, showed photos of the fallen firefighters lost or then still missing, with the headline, “Forever Heroes.”
The page belongs to Robert Saltzman, a retired firefighter/paramedic from Niskayuna District 1. Afterward, Saltzman said the page normally hangs on his wall at home, but he brought it with him for Tuesday’s ceremony.
“The fact is, these guys were doing what everybody here does, just on a different scale,” said Saltzman, whose son is now a paramedic with the Fire Department of New York. “They got an alarm and responded to that alarm.”
Friderici has worked to organize the Niskayuna ceremony every year since the attacks. As the years go by, he said it’s important to come back every Sept. 11 and remember.
“I think it’s important to remember it every year because if you start to go every five, 10 or 15, then I think people forget,” he said. “They forget how close this was to us.
“The people who lost a family member or a friend won’t, but I think the public needs to know that this is still real and everything that we’re doing today was shaped by 11 years ago.”