Mourners at E. Elmhurst ceremony honor lost 9/11 responders

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The families of firefighters, police officers and Port Authority officers who died Sept. 11, 2001, gathered last weekend for a solemn ceremony at East Elmhurst’s St. Michael’s Cemetery, which hosted a smaller, more intimate commemoration for the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

The ceremony, the borough’s largest annual Sept. 11 memorial, drew family members of the victims as well as Queens police officers, firefighters and elected officials to a chapel in St. Michael’s at 72-02 Astoria Blvd. in East Elmhurst. More than 75 people bowed their heads Saturday as the names of the borough’s first responders who died in the attacks were read and gave supportive cheers to family members who recalled their loved ones.

“The people who walked into that building knowing they were facing death were the true heroes of 9/11,” said Joe Strong, financial secretary of the city’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “They will never be forgotten.”

The parents of borough firefighters and police officers who died at Ground Zero said they hope Sept. 11 will continue to be a day of honoring the first responders at the World Trade Center for years to come.

“We are not only celebrating our son’s life, but also praying for those who are still suffering and dying from the effects of 9/11,” said Barbara Cawley, mother of Firefighter Michael Cawley, of Elmhurst’s Ladder 136. “I think we are only now seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

Pat Kiefer, mother of Firefighter Michael Kiefer, of Brooklyn’s Ladder 132, said she thinks about her son every day.

“I carry my son for all eternity in my broken heart,” she said. “This world was never meant for a person as beautiful as my son.”

Diana Pizzuti, borough commander of Queens Patrol North, said the St. Michael’s annual memorial was more than just an opportunity to pay homage to 9/11’s fallen heroes.

“These memorial services are to honor loved ones, but they also bring together families,” she said. “So many people lost their lives that day and there are so many people who have to carry on.”

City Council members Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and John Liu (D-Flushing) both said the day spoke to the city’s resilience in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.

“It’s a vivid memory that is still fresh,” Liu said. “I still remember that day — not only the fatalities, but also the great human spirit that rushed into those buildings to save people. That is what we gather here to remember.”

A monument at St. Michael’s includes the names of the 343 firefighters, 76 of whom lived or worked in Queens, who were killed in the attacks.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 7:08 pm, September 14, 2011
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