Old and new events set to memorialize 9/11

For Rev. Dr. John Riley, helping to organize the annual memorial service to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, is both a community effort and a personal responsibility.

Growing up near New York City, five people he knew died in the 9/11 terrorist attack.

“I grew up in the New York metro area in a small town in New Jersey, and five people I knew well who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald died that day,” said Mr. Riley, who serves as the memorial’s co-master of ceremonies. “I grew up with these people, and when I found out they’d perished afterward, it had a profound affect on me personally.”

Since the night of Sept. 11, 2001, the First Presbyterian Church of Smyrna has been holding memorial services to pay homage to those who died — that tradition continues on Monday.

Hosted by the Citizens’ Hose Company and the Smyrna Clayton Ministerial Association, the memorial will be held at Citizens’ Hose Company, 103 W. Commerce St. in Smyrna at 7 p.m. The service will include a candlelight vigil, music and appearances from various dignitaries and public servants. The public, all area fire companies, first-responders and other public servants are invited to attend. Parking for the event is available on the street, behind the firehouse or in the First Presbyterian Church’s parking lot.

This year’s guest speaker is Col. Richard Arroyo, chief of the Delaware River and Bay Authority.

“In 2001, Col. Arroyo was working in New Jersey for a local river and bay authority and he played an active role in the events that unfolded that day,” said Mr. Riley. “On Monday night, he’ll share some remarks on the event as he witnessed them.”

Over the years, attendance of the event has varied anywhere from 100 to 400 people, Mr. Riley noted. No matter the attendance, he feels that the effort to remember and memorialize the tragedy is something the current generation is responsible for.

“I still remember in 1959, when I was nine years old, going to one of the last big memorials held for Pearl Harbor Day,” said Mr. Riley. “It was put on by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion and it was well attended by the young men who had gone off to fight in World War II — they were middle-aged by then though. That was a big time in all their lives so it wasn’t forgotten so easily.”

One of the most important components of the memorial is to spend time thanking local and national first responders and emergency personnel, said Mr. Riley.

“In this country, and in Delaware especially, we rely on our frontline defenders,” said Mr. Riley. “9/11 demonstrated that in a very heroic way, with so many who gave their lives trying to save others. We want to remember and honor that.”

Smyrna itself had a small part to play on 9/11, he added.

“I still remember coming out of the church after our first memorial prayer service on the night of the tragedy and watching the tanker and ladder truck pull out of the firehouse garage as it was being deployed to New York City,” Mr. Riley said.

The firehouse’s vehicles were driven to New York City and ferried to Lower Manhattan to participate in fighting the fires. Although Smyrna firefighters themselves did not participate directly in dousing the flames, Mr. Riley is proud that his small community was able to assist in some way.

“This community played a minor role of its own on that day and we want to continue to play a role by doing everything we can to remember the fallen,” he said.

It seems that enthusiasm for finding new ways to memorialize 9/11 hasn’t faded either: a community balloon release will have its inaugural run this year at 6 p.m. on the Dover High School football field. The event, hosted by the Bennie Smith Funeral Home, invites the public to join funeral home representatives, Mayor Robin R. Christiansen and the Dover Police Department in releasing as many red, white and blue balloons as they can muster.
The public is encouraged to bring balloons to release.

“Bennie Smith specializes in helping grieving families so we just thought this would be a nice way to give back to the community, pay tribute to those who lost their lives and help with the healing,” said funeral coordinator and event organizer Ty Savage.

She said that it’s the first year the funeral home is hosting a balloon release, but they’d like to make it a yearly event.

“9/11 is something forever etched in all our hearts,” said Ms. Savage. “It touched me personally because when it happened — even though it was awful — it brought us all together as fellow Americans. It brings us together regardless of color, age or where you live. We were impacted as one unit by that day, so we should do what we have to do to remember that.”

Other events to be held Monday:

• Dover Air Force Base Fire Emergency Services memorial

Where: AMC Museum at 1301 Heritage Road in Dover

When: Starts at 10 a.m.

What: Stephen Gregory, former FDNY assistant fire commissioner for communications, will speak at the remembrance ceremony. On 9/11, Mr. Gregory responded to the World Trade Center from headquarters and established a staging area command post along with Assistant Chief Gerry Barbara just opposite the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Attendees will include Sen. Tom Carper, Mayor Robin R. Christensen, Col. Ethan Griffin, 436th Airlift Wing commander, Col. Corey Simmons, 436th AW vice commander and several of Team Dover’s group and squadron commanders.

• City of Newark and UD memorial ceremony

Where: Olan Thomas Park on 89 Paper Mill Road in Newark

When: Starts at 9 a.m.

What The city of Newark and University of Delaware have joined to hold a memorial event. Local police, honor guard and ROTC units will participate. The park holds the memorial garden dedicated three months after the events of 9/11.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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