Dusk set in as Kathy Ugalde of Deer Park watched her 5-year-old son place an American flag at her father’s engraved name at the Suffolk County 9/11 memorial monument Thursday evening as she and 400 others honored the loved ones they lost a decade ago.
“They never knew him,” she said of her three children who were all born after their grandfather was killed.
If her children had known their grandfather, they would have learned that Battalion Chief Ray Downey, 63, was the FDNY's most decorated member. He had been in the department for 39 years and was head of the elite special operations command, according to the family's website for a memorial charity scholarship created after 9/11. During his career he guided a rescue team to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing site and aided in hurricane rescue efforts in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
His life was cut short as he attempted to rescue others from within the Twin Towers on Sept. 11. Ugalde leads a Father’s Day 5K scholarship race each year in his honor.
Downey was one of 178 Suffolk County residents killed in the World Trade Center attacks that day, all of whose names are engraved on the monument in the Suffolk County's outside the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge.
In front of the monument, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy told families and relatives of the victims that he was proud to be standing before them and be able to honor the “brave souls” behind him.
“On Sept. 10 there were so many trivial things we thought were important in our lives. By Sept. 12, we realized what was important; family, friends, the freedom that we cherished. This wonderful monument is a daily reminder that we should never take these things for granted,” he told them.
He went on to speak about the country’s strength and united power in moving on 10 years later, undefeated by the attacks.
“The cowards that sought to crumble our way of life thought they could do so by crumbling our buildings ... but they just don’t get it,” he said. "The strength of America is not in the height of our skyscrapers; it’s in our people.”
Family and friends of those lost loved ones listened as several speakers, including Richard Stockinger, chief of the Suffolk County Fire Academy, recalled lost friends. Stockinger remembered Raymond Meisenheimer, 46, of West Babylon and Pete Martin, 43, of Miller Place, two academy instructors and New York City firefighters who died that day.
Friends and relatives gathered around the monument, pointing out the names of loved ones who perished as a result of the World Trade Center attacks.
“It doesn’t feel like 10 years. It feels like just yesterday,” the stepsisters of Vincent and Andrew Abate said. The brothers died together working for same company within the World Trade Center.
“It was their first day back from vacation,” Denise Eggers, one of the stepsisters said as she and her family recalled Andrew’s sense of humor and Vincent’s sense of style.
“He was a New York person,” Carolyn Mendell, a stepsister, joked.
The memorial lit up as dusk turned to night. Many of those gathered wiped their cheeks to sweep away tears. Members of the Suffolk County Police Department and lines of firemen surrounded the hill where the monument stands as the police cars and fire trucks flashed in the distance.