Amherst gathers to honor Sept. 11 fallen

AMHERST – As dusk descended on the big field on Boston Post Road hundreds of small lights lit up, exactly 343 lights, randomly placed over the field leading to a big American flag. Each one represented a firefighter who died on 9/11 at Ground Zero in New York.

Next to each solar light was a small acrylic label with each man’s name, rank and company. Only two lights were not random. Grouped together they represented a father and son who died that day, 17 years ago.

Not long after 9/11, Mont Vernon firefighter Rick Crocker and his wife, Libby, began setting up the lights on their field to honor the firefighters each year. New this year are 178 small American flags placed around the field, each representing firefighters who have died from illnesses acquired at Ground Zero.

Libby said that over the years the number of people who attended their 9/11 memorial ranged from a dozen to about 75.

“We do it for ourselves,” she said. “It’s a chance to reflect and keep the promise that we would never forget.”

Last week, on the anniversary of 9/11, people, including parents and children, walked quietly through the field reading the names and looking at the faces. Some commented that there is not much attention paid to 9/11 anymore.

Ray Riendeau, a veteran Milford firefighter, was with his wife, Harriet. They were there for the first time, he said, “to pay respects to the guys who sacrificed their lives,” and called the memorial “super cool.”

A big screen in the Crocker’s barn played a documentary, “Brothers On Holy Ground,” made by a New York City firefighter in which firefighters, and the family members of firefighters who died, talked about 9/11. Nearby on a long table were displayed newspapers and magazines filled with the terrible news 17 years ago.

Around 7:30 p.m. about three dozen people gathered around Milford Fire Department chaplain and firefighter Gary Williams for a brief ceremony. He remembered feeling helpless and useless on 9/11.

“Pearl Harbor energized the nation,” he said, and so did 9/11. Yet 17 years later, there’s not much attention paid to the day, though “our brothers ran into an inferno to rescue people they never met. Each light was a person,” Williams said.

Crocker said that in the past they used homemade wooden labels that were easily damaged by the weather.

This year Amherst Label, of Milford, created and donated permanent acrylic ones, and now the men’s faces and the writing are clearly visible. “They did a phenomenal job,” Crocker said.

“This is a tremendous amount of work that this family takes on each year to make sure that people have a place to go to remember the fallen heroes of that day.” said Kathy Clancy, of Amherst Label, who is related to the Crockers. “It takes your breath away to see these lights at dusk and to realize that each light stands for a life that was lost. There are no words to express how this feels.”

The memorial is left in place for 10 days, and Crocker tells firefighters to visit whenever they get off their shifts. “We’re keeping a promise” to never forget, he said. “That’s all we’re doing.”