On Saturday, Sept. 11, community members gathered at the Ulster County Fair Grounds to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The “Salute our Heroes: A Tribute for Those Not Forgotten” event, hosted by Ulster County and event organizer Mitch Serlin, honored the nearly 3,000 people who were killed om 9/11. They also honored survivors of the attack and the heroes who helped save them.
Twenty years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four planes headed for western locations and changed their course to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania — 2,753 people were killed in the crashes at the World Trade Center, or as a result of the crashes: 343 firefighters, 23 New York City police officers and 37 officers at Port Authority.
At the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., 184 people were killed. The plane that fell in Shanksville had a death toll of 40 people and it is believed that the plane crashed because passengers fought to gain control of the plane, deterring it from its goal.
“My personal feelings during the Saturday event were of sorrow and pride — so very sad that so many people died that day, but also so proud of the first responders who heroically saved others,” says Mark A. Cozzupoli, director of Ulster County Veteran Services and retired Air Force Command Chief Master Sergeant.
“Every year [Sept. 11] is an honorable, dignified day, but as with all anniversaries the significant numbers tend to stand out. It was far more emotional this year, because not only has it been 20 years, but we just lost 13 service members in Kabul,” he continued. “20 years later, we still have men and women sacrificing for their country.”
The event had music, food and speakers who commemorated the heroes as well as those who were lost. One of the speakers was New Paltz resident Tom Lenahan, who experienced the attack on the World Trade Center firsthand.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Lenahan was running late for his job in Battery Park. When he was emerging from the subway the first plane had already struck. He witnessed the chaos around the towers as people, himself included, ran to safety.
Cozzupoli was in the military at the time, and says 9/11 solidified his sense of service. “I knew at that point I was going to give my best for my country,” he says. “For the next 19 years I did just that as I deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan among other places.”
The event was free to attend, but donations were welcome. The event ended up raising $25,000 for the Hope for Heroes Lodge. Hope for Heroes is an organization founded by Mitch Serlin, one of the event organizers and a retired County K9 Police Officer and U.S. Army 101st Airborne Scout Sniper.
He created it to provide heroes suffering with PTSD a healthy outlet that shows them they can return to the outdoor activities they once loved. These activities include hunting, fishing, boating, barbecues and more. Serlin has experienced PTSD for several years firsthand and his organization’s website lists their mission: “to make heroes whole again.”
“Hope for Heroes refers to individuals who have served in the military, as well as police officers, firefighters and EMTs as true Heroes,” the website states. “These individuals have answered the call and made the brave choice to sacrifice everything for us— our safety, our freedom and our country.”
Through events like “Ulster County Salutes Our Heroes, A Tribute to Those Not Forgotten.” Hope for Heroes has hopes of building a handicap-friendly lodge in Hillsdale, New York. They also hope to partner with STRIDE Adaptive Sports which offers adaptive ski and snowboarding lessons. Another goal of theirs is to partner with LifeWorks to construct a house with adaptive equipment for people with disabilities.
“Hope for Heroes” thrives off of donations which can be placed through the link on their website. The event on Saturday was the first of many to come.
“My generation promised to never forget, but that isn’t as prevalent with the newer generations,” says Cozzupoli. “That’s why we wanted to do this event and have speakers throughout the event give their testimony so those who are too young to remember or weren’t even born can hear firsthand.”
The heroes and victims of September 11, 2001 will never be forgotten.