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Cemetery marks FDNY slain

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Firefighter John Feehan of Flushing and his son Michael touch the name of Feehan's father First Deputy Commissioner Fire Commissioner William Feehan, highest-ranking FDNY member to die in the 9/11 attack, at the conclusion of a 9/11 memorial ceremony at St. Michael's Cemetery. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Patti Cortazzo, (second r.) whose husband John died in 2009 from a Ground Zero-related illness, is surrounded by her children (l.-r.) Gianna and Anthony as well as Barbara Mahon, Port Authority Police Department family liaison, during a 9/11 memorial ceremony at St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst. John Cortazzo, a PAPD K-9 officer, was among 95 first responders honored at this year’s event. Photo by Christina Santucci
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U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley touches the name of Battalion Chief John Moran on a memorial for firefighters killed on 9/11. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Jacqueline Siff, a family friend of Christopher Santora, holds her daughter Gracie Payea, 15 months, as she attends a 9/11 memorial ceremony with Santora's sister Megan. Santora was the youngest firefighter killed on 9/11. Photo by Christina Santucci
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U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (l.) clasps the hand of Maureen Santora, whose firefighter son Christopher was killed on 9/11. Photo by Christina Santucci

The new 9/11 memorial at St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst honors not only those who have died but those who have continued to die since that horrible day.

In a ceremony Saturday filled with music and stories of those who were killed, the cemetery, at 72-02 Astoria Blvd., dedicated its latest monument related to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The new black, reflective stone called “The Wall of Remembrance” lists the names of all 343 members of the FDNY who died in the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks along with the inscription “‘There is no greater love,’ says the Lord, ‘than to lay down your life for a friend.’” Beneath the wall, pink bricks are listed with the names of first responders who died from illnesses as a result of cleaning up the debris at Ground Zero.

“They are part of the 9/11 story,” said Maureen Santora, who along with her husband Al was instrumental in creating the monument. “Without their names, this memorial would not be complete.”

Many donated to finance the new $50,000 memorial, with additional funds provided by city Comptroller John Liu, who spoke at the event.

“The heroism of the first responders showed the best spirit of humankind,” Liu said.

This is the third memorial the cemetery has created for the heroes of Sept. 11 through a partnership with the Santoras. Their son Christopher, 23, was the youngest firefighter to die that day. Previously, the cemetery had installed a memorial for the 76 firefighters who were from or who worked in Queens, the 23 NYPD members who died and the 37 Port Authority workers who died, with an additional stone for the Port Authority K9 Sirius.

The solemn mood of the ceremony was occasionally punctuated by political speeches in support of the James Zadroga Act, an act passed last year to provide health care to first responders who had gotten sick after clearing the debris at Ground Zero. U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) spoke in favor of expanding the bill to include cancers.

The act includes coverage for first responders and survivors who have any number of multiple lung and breathing disorders, post traumatic stress and other mental disorders. Responders who suffer musculoskeletal disorders like lower back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome can also receive care if the symptoms manifested on or before Sept. 11, 2003.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), one of the sponsors of the bill, said she was glad to have it passed and compared the cemetery’s memorial to the recently unveiled reflecting pools at Ground Zero on the spots where the towers stood.

“The memorial there is very beautiful. The memorial here is very beautiful,” she said.

Al Santora also criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg for not guaranteeing a space for the first responders at the 9/11 anniversary ceremony this year. The mayor’s office had given priority to the victim’s family members at the WTC site.

“We have a mayor who doesn’t give a damn about us,” Al Santora said.

To Flushing Firefighter John Feehan, whose father First Deputy Fire Commissioner William Feehan was at 71 the oldest firefighter who died on 9/11, the Saturday ceremony was a beautiful and a fitting tribute.

“I think it has a special significance to people from Queens,” John Feehan said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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