At 8:30 a.m. on a sunny Friday morning, about 100 people gathered together behind Middlesex Middle School in Darien, and stepped back in time to another sunny morning 19 years ago.

They were all there to remember and pay tribute to the events of Sept. 11, 2001 — the day when an organized group of terrorists made an attack on the United States, which resulted in the “most devastating loss of life on American soil, ever,” said Terry Gaffney, vice chairman of Darien's Monuments & Ceremonies Commission, who led the event.

Gaffney, along with First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, and State Rep. Terrie Wood, as well as many members of town boards and the Darien Police Department, were at the town’s annual 9-11 Memorial Service.

Although no one spoke directly of it, what was different from the service from past years was that very few schoolchildren and teachers were present, and everyone was wearing a mask — those were the only two reminders of the pandemic.

At the memorial, Gaffney spoke about the 2,977 people who lost their lives as a result of the events on 9-11.

“It was such a horrifying event, for not only those who perished, but those who watched and those who waited,” he said. “Many of us who were downtown that day will never forget what happened. Those who were at home watching on television or listening to a radio, will never forget.”

Gaffney continued: “Communications were knocked out for several hours, and thousands of families waited desperately to find out if their loved ones were all right. While ultimately, most came home, many did not, and Darien, like every other town and community in the New York area, lost several people from our community.”

“This is a memorial for everyone who suffered that day,” he added.

9-11 monument

Gaffney also spoke about Josh Doying, a senior in Darien High School at the time, who created the large monument that Gaffney was standing near.

It was part of Doying’s Eagle Scout project.

“The monument paid tribute to those who lost their lives in the tragedy,” Gaffney said. “This monument serves as a reminder for those of us who survived that day. It also serves as a reminder for those who were not yet born to help them to understand what happened.”

In small groups, many people took turns placing a rose on the monument.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Addley, after placing a rose on the monument, said “it’s nice that the 9-11 memorial is located at the school, so that future generations will never forget.”

He added that today is a very special day, “as we remember the memories of everyone who lost their lives on that tragic day.”

Wood told The Darien Times that, thanks to the vision of Josh Doying, the town of Darien has “a beautiful place to remember those who died in the attack on our country. Equally, we remember and pay ongoing tribute to our police, firemen and first responders — a number of whom died that day working to save lives.”

“Everyday heroes”

In his speech, Gafney acknowledged all of the “everyday heroes” — all of the first responders who risked their lives to help others on that day.

Among those who died on 9-11 were 412 New York City firefighters, policemen, and emergency medical technicians, according to Gaffney.

“Those were the real heroes of that day,” Gaffney said. “Those who were the people who ran into danger as opposed to running away from danger. They lost their lives saving the lives of others.”

Gaffney held a minute of silence to remember those who perished, and the events of that day.

Darien Police Chief Don Anderson told The Darien Times that this is the 18th year he has come to the 9-11 Memorial in town.

He also said all of the first responders in Darien, including the entire police department, would never hesitate about saving anyone — no matter who they are.

“I go on record again saying that the first responders you see here would go into a building to save anyone, no matter what their political persuasion, no matter what their race, no matter what their ethnicity,” Anderson said. “I look around at the people here who have been first responders for many, many years like I have, and I would guarantee that every single person here would put their life on the line once again to help somebody in need.”

“Never forget”

Duff told The Darien Times he remembers the day “as if it were yesterday.”

“We owe it those who perished, fought and were affected by the tragic events of Sept. 11, to never forget,” Duff added.

Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman said while it doesn’t feel like 19 years have passed since the tragedy, “what does feel like long ago is the togetherness, that we all came together as a country and hopefully we can get that back soon.”

Ochman added that memorials are important to help teach children about civic civility, “and those who have died for our right to live in a democratic society, and so the more we can teach them about participation and responsibility and their role in our government, I think we will all be the better for it.”

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said that each Sept. 11, the memories of “that fateful day” in 2001 come flooding back to her as if it were yesterday.

“Although time may have eased the pain for some, we must never, ever forget the lives lost and families changed forever by the terrorist assault on our nation,” Stevenson added.

She spoke about the two trees that stand beside the memorial stone, which “have grown stately,” she said.

“They remind me of the twin towers and the strength and resiliency of the American spirit to endure, overcome and thrive in the face of unimaginable grief,” she said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to those who died that day to save the lives of others, and for all who have sacrificed since then to protect our freedom.”

sfox@darientimes.com