On a narrow strip of land, nestled between a children’s playground and a soccer field, stands a memorial seven years in the making. The Towers of Freedom Monument, located in John J. Burns Park in Massapequa, tells the historical timeline of Sept. 11, 2001 and represents those lost with beautifully detailed bronze sculptures resting on a raised platform with two steel towers.
First responders and long-time Massapequa residents Tommy Smith, a retired NYPD detective, and Frank Haskell, a retired FDNY firefighter, envisioned the monument. Massapequa lost 12 residents that day, including firefighters, police and civilians. The monument was privately funded through fundraisers spearheaded by Maureen McDonough, an assistant with the Town of Oyster Bay.
The sculptures were designed by Harry Saarinen, who passed away before the park was completed and dedicated on Memorial Day. Sculptures include a bronze briefcase, a policeman’s hat, a firefighter’s boots and a hard hat representing those who worked on the pile. There is also a poem bronzed in a book, written by Massapequan Lauren Costantino, then 15 years old, who came to the ceremony to read her poem.
Walking down a narrow path of bricks flanked by flags from each of the armed services is a timeline depicting when each plane hit the towers, the time each fell and the day the country began the war on terrorism. Each branch of the military is represented by its respective seals, culminating with a red, white and blue star within the shape of a pentagon.
On Memorial Day the founding members, politicians, religious leaders and guests of honor assembled by the memorial as Kenny Haskell gave the opening remarks.
“Thirteen years ago American began its fight against terrorism, the longest protracted engagement in our nation’s history,” he said. “A fight that still continues today. On that horrible day in September and subsequent years since, thousands of great people have lost and given their lives. Their memories were the genesis of this memorial’s concept and the goal of honoring their lives is what brought this project to fruition. A place that provides a meaningful area to those that lost a loved one and pays tribute to those that served. A respectful site that will educate each generation on the importance of service and the significance of sacrifice.”
Guest speakers included Congressmen Peter King; Supervisor John Venditto; Dan Murphy, father of Medal of Honor recipient U.S Navy Seal Lt. Michael P. Murphy who died in Afghanistan; and Helen Dachtler, a 9/11 survivor.
Dan Murphy shared with the audience stories of his son, Michael, who served four tours of duty before he was killed at the age of 29. Known as the fighting Irishman from Long Island, he graduated with honors from Penn State University and was accepted to four law schools, but instead chose to be a Navy Seal. The movie and book Lone Survivor is based on Murphy’s story.
“For those of you who have seen Lone Survivor you will note that on Michael’s right shoulder he wore the patch of the Fire Department of New York, as did his teammates over in Afghanistan,” said Dan Murphy. “The reason being is that they wanted to remind each and every one of them what transpired on September 11, 2001.”
Helen Dachtler held everyone spellbound with her story of survival. She was working at Morgan Stanley in tower two on the 69th floor when the first plane hit and felt the building shake. She saw flames coming from the top of the building. In spite of being told to remain in their seats, she and a coworker decided to leave.
“We heard a second plane heading toward our window,” she said. “With the smoke and the flames bellowing from above we joined hundreds of frightened shell-shocked individuals trying to make their way to safety.”
Detective Tommy Smith (co-founder of the memorial), who Dachtler refers to as her “guardian angel,” found her and guided her to safety. They have been in touch these past 13 years, but had not seen each other until the dedication ceremony.
This beautiful memorial has at the base of the platform a poem, written by co-founder Frank Haskell, which is evocative of the feeling one has when visiting it.
“Amongst the children’s laughter and spirited crowds that roar we honor all who fell at home or on the battlefield of war. As you visit here with others, or peacefully on your own embrace our eternal presence, for you are never here alone.”
The Towers of Freedom is a 501c3 charitable organization. To donate to the cause or to buy a memorial brick, which will be included in the pathway go to www.towersoffreedom.com or write to Towers of Freedom, 4940 Merrick Rd., Box 156, Massapequa Park, NY 11762.