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Reflecting on a Day of Loss Too Great to Measure

Thu, 09/09/2021 - 09:03
In the heat of recovery efforts near the World Trade Center on Sept. 15, 2001, firefighters left their jackets behind as they worked in the rubble.
J.D. Samuelson

Anyone who was on the South Fork on Sept. 11, 2001, and old enough to remember the events of the day will likely start by recounting how perfectly it had begun: the weather dry and cool, the sky a brilliant blue, the surf as good as it gets. It was a perfection made all the more remarkable by what would follow at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. 

Looking back on the reporting in The Star in the days, weeks, and months, even years, following the terrorist attacks, we are reminded of how stunned we all were, how far-reaching the loss was, how eager people were to help, and also how far we've come. The excerpts below offer a view of that time, as recorded for history in this newspaper.

Reverberations in Montauk
Sept. 13, 2001

The gate in the high fence that surrounds the Montauk Coast Guard Station was shut tight on Tuesday morning -- the station's people and the crew of the 87-foot cutter Ridley on high alert like all of this nation's military.

Without radio and television, the closed fence would have been about the only indication that something terrible had happened 118 miles to the west. Tuesday was crystal clear and beautiful on the East End. Surfers found the waves near perfect from the hurricane passing far at sea. Surfcasters had striped bass within reach.

Word that the shining day had a dark and terrifying center spread slowly at first. Then, stories of local people who were witness to, or affected directly by, the horrible events were passed from mouth to mouth in a frightening blur of words.

Few people are likely to forget where they were on Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001.

Russell Drumm


Local Woman Feared Lost
Sept. 13, 2001

Linda Gronlund, who grew up in Sag Harbor, was reportedly a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark bound for San Francisco that crashed 80 miles from Pittsburgh today. A daughter of Doris Gronlund of Sag Harbor, Ms. Gronlund was said to have called her sister, Elsa Strong, at home in Amherst, N.H., from the plane to tell her that it was being hijacked. 

Susan Rosenbaum


Approaching Manhattan from Long Island, with the smoke billowing from the Twin Towers shortly after 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001  Larry Smith

Editorial: Measure of Humanity
Sept. 20, 2001

The tragedy of Sept. 11 has helped Americans to see each other more clearly. Our conventional, long accepted ideas about those who are different and whose way of life we sometimes judge negatively have been tempered by the flames of the World Trade Center. Those who disliked what Rudolph Giuliani stood for as mayor of New York now know him as a man to be honored for compassion and calmness in the face of disaster, for measured leadership.

What we are learning now about loss, caring, and heroism, about courage to do what is needed even when your own life is threatened, requires us to look at each other differently. Perhaps only those who had known terrible personal tragedy, and yet went on, or those who had experienced active combat, understood what we now are all learning: The way to judge others is by a single measure -- their humanity.


Prayer, Song, Silence Fill a Week of Grief
Sept. 20, 2001

Every day since terror found its targets in New York and Washington and was intercepted by heroism in Pennsylvania, worship services here have drawn hundreds of people, some in business dress, some in beach sandals, parents carrying infants, a few elderly in wheelchairs, and almost all with tears welling.

"A dull thud lays in your stomach," the Rev. David Jones of the Amagansett Presbyterian Church told more than 300 attending a community vigil at the Presbyterian Church in East Hampton last Thursday. "What happened was unspeakable, but we must speak: In expression, there is healing."

Susan Rosenbaum


Donations Flood In
Sept. 20, 2001

South Fork residents have responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center with an outpouring of patriotism and support. Almost $65,000 has been contributed to relief funds in the days since the disaster, and truckloads of equipment and supplies for rescue workers have headed west.

People stopping in on Saturday to the car wash and bake sale organized by Ashley McGinniss and Marielle Sucsy, East Hampton High School sophomores, with the Key Club, not only paid for their wash-and-buff but thrust $20 bills for the relief effort into the students' hands. While students stood along Newtown Lane singing "God Bless America" and the national anthem, the event raised $7,000.

Joanne Pilgrim


In the Schools: Knowledge and Hope
Sept. 20, 2001

For high school history teachers, who are charged with helping students understand something of the outside world, the tragedy presented perhaps the ultimate challenge. 

Diane Spina, who teaches history and economics at East Hampton High School, learned of the Manhattan attack during a free period and when her next class started immediately turned on the television. "Something happened and I think we should watch it," she told her students. "I was trying to allay their fears, but it's hard to do that when you're sitting there scared to death yourself." 

David Swickard, another East Hampton High social studies teacher, was in class when a hall monitor told him about the first plane and turned on his classroom television just as the second plane crashed into the second tower. "Fundamentally, the school day just stopped as of that point."

"My way of dealing with the horror and the sadness is to teach this stuff," Dr. Swickard said. A day after the attack he asked students to write about their reactions as if it were 20 years later. "Then I handed it back to them and told them to keep it and buy a copy of the newspaper."

Pierson chose not to have students watch television broadcasts on Tuesday. "It was just too gruesome," said Maggie Kotuk, a history teacher. "It's right out of hell, unedited." Administrators also asked teachers to urge students not to watch the news at home without their parents. "The innocence is gone," Ms. Kotuk said. "I look at the seventh graders -- they're so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They just turned into old people overnight." When Ms. Kotuk's students ask her if the United States will go to war and what will happen to the world, "I tell them that there is always hope. I have to give them hope. I have to give myself hope."

Carissa Katz


East Hampton's Finest Head West
Sept. 20, 2001

East Hampton Town Police Chief Todd Sarris gathered the department's 14 volunteers around him behind the police station on Friday morning. They were ready to go -- having already tied American flags to the antennas of the three vehicles they would take to New York City. 

An exhausted Kevin Sarlo, a lieutenant, who had returned from the devastation with East Hampton's first group of 11 volunteers, told the replacements to expect to be assigned to security duty, even traffic control. A black sky to the west confirmed the news that it was raining hard in the city, hampering the frantic rescue efforts.

The three-car caravan departed at 10 a.m. Little was said en route. Small talk seemed to play at the feet of the monstrous reality without daring to look up. The volunteers -- Det. Lt. Edward Ecker Jr., Sgt. Richard Faulhaber, Officers Thomas Miller, Robert Stone, John Lakeman, Dorine Drohan, Peter Schmitt, Barry Johnson, Michael Sarlo, John Anderson, Robert Anderson, and John Moss, and Frank Kennedy, the harbormaster -- would have to face it soon enough.

A cloud of rust-colored smoke hovered over where the twins had stood. 

On the street at the staging area, in the rain, the call went out for iron workers, and iron workers with burner's licenses, those who could cut through steel. Donated supplies of food and clothing overflowed their containers. National Guard soldiers in full battle dress and their Humvees.

The East Hampton volunteers were told to report to First Avenue and 30th Street to guard the morgue at the New York University Medical Center. 

The East Hampton cops stood security duty at the morgue for three and a half hours. They were then reassigned to the city's 17th Precinct, whose responsibility includes the United Nations. East Hampton joined the security force there for 13 hours, keeping pedestrian and vehicular traffic away before again being reassigned to secure a temporary morgue on the docks beside the Hudson River near ground zero.

"What shocked me was the enormity of the place. I had never been to the World Trade Center," Lieutenant Ecker said. "The total area of destruction. It would be like trying to describe the Grand Canyon. It looked like a movie set."

Russell Drumm


After the Fall
Sept. 27, 2001

At the outer perimeter on Canal Street on Sept. 15, police are turning away a constant barrage of would-be onlookers trying every imaginable excuse to get closer to the scene. 

At this first concentric circle of my descent into what is being called the zone, a disheveled man who looks as if he has not slept in days paces along the barricade screaming a woman's name. Everyone ignores him until he tries to cross over. A policeman takes him gently by the arm and turns him around. The man curls into a ball at the policeman's feet, sobbing without tears.

Everywhere at Ground Zero the air is smoky and smells like a slipping clutch and burning hair. Two retired New York City policemen lean against an empty Dumpster labeled "F.B.I. Plane Parts Only." Every five minutes dump trucks overflowing with macerated concrete and bent steel leave fully loaded.

There is too much of everything, except maybe miracles. No survivors have been found in the 16-acre New York crash site since the day after the attacks.

A second later, all hell breaks loose on the pile. Fires have been flaring and then subsiding all week, but suddenly something is terribly wrong. A police captain in a white shirt and hard hat comes running out of the debris field, waving his arms and screaming. "GET BACK! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! LIBERTY IS COMING DOWN!" 

We run for our lives, knocking down the final, concentric barricade standing just feet from the pile. Vehicles are abandoned, engines still running. Workers scramble up ladders, out of holes, down from scaffolding, drop their still-spinning power tools and run like hell.

Everyone stops after sprinting several hundred yards. It was either a false alarm or a very early warning.

J.D. Samuelson


Schools See an Influx
Sept. 27, 2001

Families forced out of their apartments in New York City by fear or circumstance, parents too worried to send their children to school in Manhattan or unable to because the schools have been closed, have sought refuge in their second homes and are enrolling their children in local schools in an attempt to recapture a sense of security.

There were nine new students in East Hampton public schools as of Tuesday, as many as seven in the Montauk School, and six new students in the Sag Harbor schools, with a possibility of two more coming by the end of the week.

Private schools also reported a steady stream of inquiries. The Hampton Day School expects to have 10 new students by Friday. The Hayground School has enrolled one student on a temporary basis, for a month. The Ross School has received many calls and said it may accept some students this week. The Stella Maris School in Sag Harbor and the Child Development Center Charter School in Wainscott have each had several calls but neither has taken in any new students.

The first family to enroll children at the Hampton Day School walked in on Sept. 11, the day of the attack. Since then, said Elka Rifkin, the acting head of the school, "people haven't stopped coming through."

"They've lost so much," Ms. Rifkin said. One child's school is now being used as a morgue. Some families have been unable to get into their apartments to get clothes or records.

Carissa Katz


Terrorism: Emergency Plans
Sept. 27, 2001

Here and there on the South Fork this week, in informal conversation and in public meetings, people expressed a gnawing insecurity that began with the events of Sept. 11 and has not abated in their wake.

"God forbid, in a terrorist attack, you'll need medical care after 8 p.m.," said Carol Roaman, a member of the East Hampton Citizens Advisory Committee, which met Monday. The group was discussing after-hours care as part of the recommendations for the East Hampton Town Comprehensive Plan. Such comments were not heard a month ago.

Last week's two-day national ban on crop dusting officially raised the specter of bioterrorism. At the same time, efforts to bolster emergency preparedness were under way at local hospitals and ambulance companies and in all levels of government, including Suffolk County. For three years county emergency workers have been instructed in disaster management under an $800,000 United States Department of Justice terrorist training program.

Susan Rosenbaum


Airport Feels the Pinch
Sept. 27, 2001

Aviation came limping back into service over the past week and a half. First only licensed air carriers could fly, then private pilots could fly under instrument flight rules with clearance. Next, private pilots could fly by sight, but only if they were taking off from one airport and headed to another. Bans on flight instruction, pleasure flights, sightseeing, and aerial photography were lifted on Saturday morning. However, airspace around New York City remains severely restricted and those restrictions trickle down to the businesses at the East Hampton Airport. 

Carissa Katz


Varied Views on War
Oct. 18, 2001

A small, random inquiry in the last week about opinions of East Hampton Town residents from Sag Harbor to Montauk on the bombing in Afghanistan that started on Oct. 7 showed a range from one end of the spectrum to the other. While no one doubted the magnitude of the horror that struck American shores on Sept. 11, some questioned whether the retaliatory actions were the right choice in fighting worldwide terrorism.

Jason Biondo


Tips After Tragedy Lead the F.B.I. Here
Oct. 11, 2001

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have come to the South Fork at least three times since Sept. 11, following leads they hoped would shed light on the World Trade Center attacks.

About a week after the attacks, an agent paid a visit to the Montauk airport, a private airfield. He asked Helen Gili, the airport manager, whether any crop-dusting aircraft were stored there, Ms. Gili said last week, and also if she had seen any suspicious people loitering or any "abnormal aircraft."

The agent also asked about a seaplane base in Lake Montauk, near Star Island. That facility was dismantled many years ago.

As in most places across the nation, nerves here are frayed by the events of Sept. 11 and antennae are up. In addition to the increased police presence at the town airport, certain other transportation-related measures have been taken here in the wake of the attacks.Ê

The Hampton Jitney has posted new signs on its buses indicating the company's "right to check all packages and carry-on luggage." Hampton Luxury Liner drivers were checking passengers' drivers' licenses or passports and, randomly, luggage, as they boarded. City police have been doing spot checks aboard the Liners at the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel since Oct. 1, checking driver's identification and that of some passengers.

Susan Rosenbaum


School Trips on Hold in Uncertain Times
Oct. 18, 2001

Terrorist attacks, and threats of more, have put a damper on school trips scheduled for the coming months. Public and private schools have canceled, or in some cases postponed, their plans for high schoolers to go abroad this year, pending the course of developments worldwide. 

Several districts have also canceled or put off taking trips to New York City, Boston, and Washington, but some school officials maintain that the educational value of traveling, at least to Manhattan, outweighs the risk.

Susan Rosenbaum


Surviving the Year, One Day at a Time
Sept. 5, 2002

Doris Gronlund of Sag Harbor, whose daughter Linda K. Gronlund died in the Sept. 11 crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, has taken some solace in the fact that her daughter and the 39 other passengers aboard the hijacked plane are believed to have sacrificed themselves to save others. 

"It's been a struggle this year because of all the horrific things we had to do," she said, recalling receiving the body bag with her daughter's remains, listening to the cockpit recorder, and finally, this spring, hearing a recording of the cellphone call Ms. Gronlund made to her sister, Elsa Strong, after the plane was hijacked. "Day by day you live and just thank God for the fact that they did make a mark on this world. . . . My daughter had a tremendous legacy and each of the 39 others did too. It's like it wasn't an accident that they were all together," Mrs. Gronlund said. "Those were 40 of the bravest people."

"Even people who had no losses and had never been in the building are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome," said Mary Bromley, an East Hampton therapist. 

"We were all affected," said the Rev. David Parker of the East Hampton Methodist Church. "We're all prisoners of memory in a very distinctive way. We still feel residual anguish and we always will." 

Carissa Katz


Relay: The Unbearable Heaviness
Sept. 6, 2018

I'd arrived in Springs, from Brooklyn, on the evening of the 13th, collapsing under the unbearable heaviness of the attack, good friends graciously taking me in for three nights.

There was no plan but to be far away from New York City, and I was happy to do anything, to go anywhere, to turn off the damn television and pretend all was well, and going out to Montauk for drinks at sunset sounded pretty good, under the circumstances. The seemingly spontaneous swell of a disparate choir, friends and strangers alike singing in unison and with complete abandon, brought the first, microscopic sense of comfort, even strength.--

Smoke poured into the sky for many days, and the enormous empty space where the World Trade Center had stood seemed illusory, the notion that the towers could simply be gone ludicrous, impossible.

I walked past "missing" posters affixed to every inch of every wall, each a plea for information painstakingly handwritten around an image of happy people at some spirited celebration -- a birth, an anniversary, a graduation, or just a perfect summer day. Every last one of them was dead, buried beneath thousands of tons of steel and glass. I walked past firehouses where a dozen men were lost, and the evening news told of 25-year-old widows and fatherless infants and those who would soon be born into this terrible new world.

And that was the worst thing, that unbearable heaviness, and it filled me with a sadness for everyone, but mostly for the children who might never know the innocence of awakening to the world, a welcoming, endless summer awaiting.

Christopher Walsh


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