On 9/11 anniversary, memories help loved ones move beyond tragedy
As she has for the past seven years, Ingrid Lenihan on Tuesday came to the Sherwood Island State Park pavilion in Westport for the state's ceremony to honor her husband Joseph Anthony Lenihan and others killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Last night, his son, Joseph, now 10, and other Lenihan family members joined a procession of victims' relatives who placed white roses on granite markers at the Connecticut's Living Memorial engraved with the names of those lost in the attacks.
"He would of been 50 this year," Lenihan said.
"I remember putting fake blow-out candles on his cake and it took him five minutes to blow out," said Lenihan's 14-year-old nephew, Zachary Smith of Avon.
Ingrid Lenihan said she has happy memories of her husband every day, and though life has moved on, seeing familiar faces of fellow survivors and hearing comforting words give her some solace that the attacks and their toll are remembered.
"It's nice because we think about Joe every day," Lenihan said. "But this is when America thinks about him." On a sunny September evening, hundreds of relatives and friends gathered at the park memorial for the state's official observance honoring the 156 people with Connecticut ties killed in the terrorist attacks, an event that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
The victims included computer salesmen, financial executives and flight attendants.
From the waterfront site, downtown Manhattan can be seen about 53 miles away, and many onlookers gathered for days to watch smoke billowing from the destroyed trade center.
In her comments, Gov. M. Jodi Rell directed most of her thoughts toward the relatives, whom she said humbled her with the "grace and strength" they have shown in dealing with the loss of their spouses, sons, brothers and sisters.
"You realized you weren't going to go on the sidelines because that isn't the place to be," Rell said. "When you have infinite love that wouldn't be possible, and you really do." As dusk fell, half a dozen relatives slowly read the names of the Connecticut victims, before the crowd observed a moment of silence.
The ceremony also featured the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's Chorale singing an "American Salute," which included "God Bless America" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," followed by a guitar and vocal version of John Lennon's "Imagine," performed by Tony Harrington.
After the ceremony, Rell and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, along with Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and other officials walked across the windswept meadow to form a receiving line near the memorial for relatives as they came to place the white roses on the markers.
Weston resident Connie Taylor, whose son Bradley Vadas, a 37-year-old Westport resident who worked for Keefe Bruyette & Woods at the World Trade Center, said she and Bradley's father, Don Vadas, refurbished a baseball field at Compo Beach in Westport in tribute to their son.
The Sunday before the attack, Bradley Vadas hit a home run during a baseball game at the park.
After the ceremony, Connie Taylor and her husband, Bruce Taylor, planned to have dinner with a group of other Sept. 11 parents who supported each other over the years, she said. "They've really helped us," the 73-year-old Taylor said of the group.
Steven O'Brien, 49, of New Britain, was at the ceremony to remember his twin brother, Scott, who was visiting the World Trade Center for a trade show on the day of the attacks.
O'Brien said he particularly misses shared memories with his brother, many of which he believes will eventually be lost.
"He was always the kind of guy who would say, `Remember that?' and I'd say, `Oh yeah,' " O'Brien recalled. "When it first happened, life was tough every day, but now it's not as intense all the time and you can deal with daily life and relationships."
Elizabeth Bullis-Wiese, 52, who lost her sister, Dianne Bullis-Snyder, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, said she feels as though her sister would have been pleased with her efforts to keep the family on an even keel.
"I think the whole idea of living your life to the fullest in a way is what it has meant," Bullis-Wiese said. "I always felt that she wanted me to pick up the torch."
"She really has kept things together," said Marilyn Bullis of her daughter.
Bullis-Wiese said the remembrance ceremony allows the loved ones of victims to spend time around others who share the tragedy, giving her a sense of peace through another anniversary.
"Tonight is really about getting together and the extra support of seeing people who are in the same boat as us," Bullis-Wiese said. "Other families have been a real source of support and helping to talk about things."