Cape strives to ‘forget not’
The events of September 11, 2001 creates an odd dichotomy in the minds of the American people; it’s a delicate balancing act, trying to distance ourselves from the horrors of that day, while trying to keep the memories and the sacrifices of the fallen close to our hearts.
Two ceremonies in Cape Coral walked that fine line on Friday, and both shared the same message: We can’t ever forget, no matter how much time passes, no matter how painful that day was.
“It’s our responsibility to carry on the stories so we don’t repeat the same mistakes,” said Cape Coral Police Chief Bill Van Helden. “We have to make sure people don’t forget how far we’ve come in this country.”
Van Helden spoke at both ceremonies on Friday.
The first, at Cape Harbour, was sponsored by former and current flight attendants. The second, at the Harney Point VFW, was sponsored by former firefighters.
Van Helden’s speech focused on what he called “Forget Not”, an ideology that he said all Americans have to keep in mind.
Van Helden, who is originally from New York, stressed the sheer importance of this ideal, and he hopes others do the same.
“No matter how much distance we put between ourselves and that day… we can’t forget,” he said.
While both ceremonies shared messages, and speakers, each had its own distinct feel.
The early ceremony at Cape Harbour focused not only on first responders but the flight crews of the four commercial flights used in the attacks.
White roses were floated into the water behind Rumrunners, one for each flight crew member and passenger that died.
Another unique aspect of the early ceremony was the presence of George E. Smith, a New York City Police Officer and first responder on that fateful day eight years ago.
Smith said he stayed at Ground Zero for nine months, “every day,” and that in the recovery efforts there wasn’t a “body part” he didn’t come in contact with while helping to sift through the rubble.
The focus of Smith’s comments to the crowd collected on the deck of Rumrunner’s was the aftermath of 9/11, and how people are still dying from emotional or physical scars.
According to Smith, 817 people have died in the years following the attack, 33 from suicide, 270 from cancer, and the rest from respiratory illnesses.
“No one addresses the aftermath and they should because people are still dying from this,” he said. “I believe people are totally unaware of it… we still have people suffering today.”
The afternoon ceremony at the Harvey Point VFW in downtown Cape Coral had its own share of unique tributes.
A 21-gun salute rang out the warm, humid afternoon to honor the fallen police officers and firefighters.
As one of the color guard responsible for the salute, Joe “D” DiGregorio fired the shots.
DiGregorio was a lifelong New York firefighter, stationed at Fort Apache in the South Bronx.
DiGregorio has been organizing and throwing the ceremony since 2002. The ceremony’s finale is the ringing of the last alarm, which according to DiGregorio, is used by firefighters to signal to one another that one of their own has fallen in a fire.
As Joe DiGregorio rang the last alarm, the room stood still, with only cameras flashing and tears falling.
It was a fitting tribute, one that has stayed with DiGregorio, and will always stay with him as long as he’s alive.
“I’ve been doing this since 2002,” he said. “Even if no one showed up, we would still be here, we would still do this.”