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Juniper vigil observes 9/11 beneath patter of raindrops

If the raindrops that hit the ground at any moment during Sunday night’s candlelight vigil at Juniper Valley Park could have been counted, perhaps they would have equaled the number of people who carpeted the lawn at the same time last year, when thousands gathered to mourn the losses of Sept. 11, 2001.

One year later sheets of rain failed to deter a crowd of many hundreds from returning to that same spot where they sang, prayed, honored the dead and cherished life only days after the first anniversary of the terror attacks.

“I just want to thank from the bottom of my heart all of you who have weathered this storm,” said Kathy Pellegrino, the vigil’s organizer, to the people who stood beneath umbrellas and soaking jackets.

The steady stream of raindrops presented an insignificant obstacle for the many who turned out with candles in their palms, created a sea of orange lights that burned strong through the storm.

“I stand here proud, having witnessed not one soul move as the rain came down,” said a police officer who closed the ceremony.

The throngs gathered at dusk in the lower ballfields beneath the bright beams of the park’s overhead lights, wearing creative displays of red, white and blue.

As “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” rang through the air from a powerful sound system, the crowd turned westward to face Manhattan, where smoke rising from Ground Zero had still been visible during their vigil of a year ago. Juniper Valley Park had a clear view of the Twin Towers before their destruction.

Although some speculated that Sunday night’s crowd would have been much larger had the weather been calmer, the many who did attend said they were inspired by the turnout and the ceremony’s poignant remembrance.

“I am so impressed that so many people came out,” said Helen Gardner, a senior citizen from Forest Hills. “It’s a sad time for all Americans, and it’s a time when we’re all coming together.”

“It was beautiful,” said Middle Village resident Tom Daly, who carried a large American flag on a pole. “This community is unbelievable. The patriotism is fantastic.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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