Wilton remembers Sept. 11

Kendra Baker video
Wilton first responders and guests gathered outside Wilton Fire Headquarters the morning of Monday, Sept. 11, to remember those who lost their lives 16 years earlier and pay respect to those who helped during and after the terrorist attacks.

The 9/11 Memorial Ceremony opened with a procession of Wilton’s emergency responders — led by retired fire department apparatus supervisor and bagpipe player Ralph Nathanson — followed by a moment of silence and a flag-raising ceremony.

There were speeches and comments from Wilton first responders including Police Capt. Thomas Conlan, Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps President John Miscioscia and Fire Chief Ronald Kanterman; as well as community leaders First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice and Father Reggie Norman from Our Lady of Fatima Church.

Fire Lt. Bill Wilson and police officer Anna Tornello sang "In the Arms of an Angel" and "Amazing Grace."

Norman read Prayer of Remembrance for 9/11 from Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago, which emphasizes the “heavy burden of memory” the date of Sept. 11 carries. The prayer can be read here.

During her speech, Vanderslice said she has given “a lot of thought to what motivates our first responders” since becoming first selectman. “As a mother and a spouse, I also think a lot about their spouses and their children and their parents,” she said.

“I wonder what they think when their spouse or child walks out the door to go to work. I imagine they carry a level of anxiety that never really leaves them, no matter how many years it has been.”

Vanderslice said she and others are grateful for what Wilton’s firefighters and police officers do and “whatever it is inside of [them] that motivates [them] to help others and to put others first.”

“And we are grateful to your families for providing you with the necessary support to do what you do,” said Vanderslice, who encouraged people to look to first responders for inspiration.

“Let’s let our emergency workers be our role models to make our own sacrifices to help others,” she said.

“It will be through those acts of kindness and selflessness that we pay respect to those who perished and those who responded 16 years ago.”

Kendra Baker photos

Robyn Reeves

The event’s special guest speaker was retired Miller-Driscoll teacher Robyn Reeves, who was a kindergarten teacher at Driscoll School, a mother, a firefighter’s wife and a military spouse on Sept. 11, 2001.

She recalled that day being “one of those days where you couldn’t wait to get your class outside to play.”

“The children were just coming in from the buses and the beginning of the school year excitement was still in the air,” she said.

“As I was helping the children unpack the backpacks at their lockers in the hallway, I remember the assistant principal coming down to our core. She quietly came over and whispered in my ear the news that planes had flown into the twin towers.”

Reeves said she had to put on her “teacher face” and be with her 18 kindergartners.

“I had to make it feel like any other day for those sweet four- and five-year-olds. We had our morning meeting, read stories and did projects and I tried my best to stay in the moment although I was worried about my own family” she said.

“As educators, we needed to continue to help the children feel safe and reassured without giving them the adult feelings that we were experiencing. Never did we tell the children about what was happening in New York City.”

By late morning, “all the children were sent home to be with their families,” said Reeves, and she was able to get her daughter, Becca, from her kindergarten class.

“It was a feeling of overwhelming relief to be able to hug her and be together. We quickly left the school and made our way home to Bethel, where we lived at that time,” she said.

“It seemed like such a long ride because I knew that my husband, Phil and son were home and we couldn’t get home fast enough.”

Once home, and after giving her husband, Phil, a “tremendous hug,” Reeves said, “I remember the two of us watching in disbelief, with tears in our eyes, as they showed the unthinkable acts on TV.”

“Time seemed to stand still as we tried to make sense of what had happened to our perfect world. At some point that afternoon, Phil mentioned that people from the Bridgeport Fire Department were going down to the city to help with the search and rescue efforts and he needed to be there with them,” she said.

“Phil always had the drive to help others and there was no stopping him. Both of us knew families that worked down in the city, which brought the drive to get down to help, that much greater.”

Her husband packed a bag and left that evening, said Reeves.

“He spent several days [at Ground Zero], working beside firefighters from many towns in rescue efforts,” she said.

Back at home, Reeves said, she “received the devastating news of the men from Wilton that lost their lives during the attacks” — Edward Fergus, Peter Fry, John Iskyan, John Henwood and Edward York.

“At the time, I worked with Mary Henwood and remember how shocked we were as a staff when we heard the news that her son, John Henwood, had lost his life,” she said.

Reeves said she also knew the family of John Iskyan, another Wilton man who had died, having had his daughter in her classroom several years prior.

“I, like Phil, had this need to try to help where I could,” she said.

“I had the bittersweet opportunity of being able to help by having John’s daughter — who was in third grade at the time — come into my classroom to be my ‘assistant teacher’ for several weeks during this difficult time.”

His daughter, Reeves said, “had a love for kindergarteners and it was a healing experience for both of us.”

“I learned much about strength, resilience and the power of innocence by spending time with her,” she said.

“As the days went on after 9/11 … there became a great surge of patriotism and unity throughout our nation. Our community of Wilton came together to support one another. The outpouring of pride and perseverance to be an American was great.”

Reeves said that day in 2001 “changed and shaped” her family.

“We learned to be a strong military family as Phil became a medevac pilot, flight instructor and later, a safety officer for the Massachusetts National Guard,” she said.

“We experienced two deployments as a family, with Phil being away a year each time. We did it for the freedom, safety and love of our country.”

Through it all, she said, “we had tremendous support from our families, our friends and the community.”

“We had to learn to stand strong, appreciate each moment and take one day at a time. And so today, we do that as a nation,” said Reeves.

“We take this day to remember those that lost their lives 16 years ago. We continue to hold them in our heart and thoughts.”

After reading the names of the men killed during the attacks Reeves said, “May their stories continue to keep their memories alive through those that tell them.”

“May we never forget those that made the ultimate sacrifice — the men and women that worked in the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, the passengers on Flight 93, the first responders, firefighters, policemen and women,” said Reeves.

“They will always remain in our hearts, thoughts and prayers — and may we also remember the surviving family members that continue on to build their life stories each day.”

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