Remembering September 11 then and now
Michael LaRue is now a Cape Coral resident. On September 11, 2001, he was a first responder in New York City to the tragic events that took place on what is now known as 9/11.
“It was very surreal,” he said. “It was very quiet, and there was a lot of smoke and fire. And then there was the dust.”
A retired NYPD lieutenant, he said dust and paper were flying everywhere, sometimes up to the knee.
LaRue was one of many residents attending the Harney Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #8463 9/11 Remembrance Event Tuesday.
His remarks came on the heels of the announcement Monday that the 9/11 WTC Health Program will now add to the list 50 types of cancers individuals may have developed after breathing toxic dust during the World Trade Center attacks, announced by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
He was one of the lucky ones, he said. He was in charge of a temporary morgue, and someone gave him a mask.
“No one else seemed to have a mask,” he said.
The remembrance event featured many dramatic moments remembering those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks.
“Nearly 3,000 innocents were killed, and tens of thousands of lives changed forever,” said Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan in his address.
“America found new heroes – the police, firefighters and countless workers that sorted through the rubble.”
He also noted the recent announcement to expand health care coverage.
“Some will be ill for the rest of their lives.”
Sullivan was among the many guest speakers Tuesday. They also included Cape Coral Fire Department Chief Bill Van Helden, Cape Coral Police Chief Jay Murphy, Post District Commander Ken Corr and Post Commander Arne Suominen.
There were many emotional and dramatic moments. There was the lonely sound of Taps played by Honor Guard Bugler Bob Day, the solemn sound of the Final Alarm rung by organizer Joe DiGregorio, the sharp sound of the 21-Gun Volley by the post Honor Guard and the singing of Amazing Grace by the Honor Guard’s Bob Mullaney.
There was also a wreath presentation by the Vietnam Veterans of America Firebase #594 and the Post, from both Women’s and Men’s Auxiliaries, with participants Steve and Lana Nankervis, Rob Rieser and Jami Manning.
A heartfelt prayer and benediction was presented by Post Chaplain Anthony Alfano and the Posting of the Colors was by the Cape Coral and Post Honor Guards.
Post Commander Arne Suominen Jr. introduced all of the speakers and, like many, talked about where he was on 9/11.
“I was listening to the radio while I was working on my house. They said, first, a small plane had hit the Trade Center. Then they said it was jumbo jet. Then, they hit the second building. It was truly a sad day for our country,” he said.
Fire Chief Van Helden talked those who died and “those that continue to suffer effects of that day. The best way to honor them is for us to stand together as a country.”
Murphy said of those first responders, “We should draw upon their strength and wisdom. If you were there, would you have made that decision to go in?”
He also said that Cape Coral, as a city, does come together in times of tragedy.
That was especially true in the case of Officer Andrew Widman, who was killed in the line of duty in Fort Myers.
“The people of Lee County and Cape Coral raised a half a million dollars for that family,” Murphy said.
While remembrances were many, a special honor was also bestowed. Suominen presented Cape Coral Assistant Fire Chief Tom Tomich with a special award, in recognition for his 35 years of service to the department pending his upcoming retirement.
“It has been my honor to serve the citizens of Cape Coral and our firemen,” Tomich said.
The event was again coordinated by retired New York City firefighter Joe DiGregorio who said he remembers 9/11 like it was yesterday, and who lost many loved ones in the event.
Many other retired New York City firemen and policemen who now live in Cape Coral were in attendance, including Neil O’Connor of the 10-13 Club, a group of retired NYC policemen.
“We meet once a month, and there are about 80 guys in the club,” he said. “At 9/11, my brother, a fireman got out, but one of my drivers was killed.”
Also of note, Post member Harry Beeman was featured in the Monday, Aug. 20, edition of Stars and Stripes Magazine, for his ongoing quest to get a Purple Heart. He’s having difficulty because no official records can be found to get him the commendation he says he earned.