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9/11 Monument Keepers Face Hard Questions About Who is Remembered & How

NEW YORK — When Maureen Haskell visits the quiet collection of bronze plaques and sculptures at the Coney Island Wall of Remembrance in Brooklyn, she always tucks a prayer card for her son, Timothy, behind the plaque honoring her son Thomas Jr.

They were both firefighters and they both died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But only the brother who worked at a Brooklyn firehouse appears on the memorial because, for now, the wall pays tribute just to those trade center first responders who were based in the borough.

Thirty miles east, the Haskell brothers names both appear on the massive stone and steel Nassau County Sept. 11 memorial at Eisenhower Park, erected to honor county residents who died in the terrorist attacks.

I am grateful for all the memorials, said Haskell, who lives in Seaford. Still, I don t like my boys being separated – they died together.

Long before Mayor Michael Bloomberg s vow last month to include Ground Zero recovery workers in the national World Trade Center memorial, wrenching decisions about who gets remembered and how they are remembered have been playing out at smaller Sept. 11 monuments across the region for years.

And, as the mayor s promise shows, those decisions evolve again and again, altered by public sentiment, political pressures and the passage of time.

The Coney Island 9/11 memorial honored only first responders who had been based in a Brooklyn precinct or firehouse when it was dedicated in December 2002.

But within a year, after hearing from many victims families, the memorial added plaques for first responders who had lived or were born in Brooklyn.

Now, founder Sol Moglen is close to raising enough money to expand the memorial again – this time to add the names of every first responder who died on Sept. 11 – including Maureen Haskell s other son, Timothy, 34, a firefighter who was based in Manhattan, and even a Port Authority police dog named Sirius.

I thought I was finished, Moglen said, but then you realize that there are situations, like the Haskells, that you run into. Things you hadn t thought about.

Those involved with building the Nassau County memorial at Eisenhower Park, which opened earlier this year, also struggled to come up with realistic and compassionate criteria for choosing which names to include, said Ian Siegel, president of the Nassau memorial foundation.

What began as a list of 281 names of people who were living in Nassau at the time of the attacks quickly grew as organizers decided to also include former county residents, such as children who had grown up in Nassau but moved away.

Still, the foundation had a tough decision to make: How long did you have to spend in Nassau to make the cut? A day? A week? A year?

The board settled on this: Anyone who was living in Nassau at the time of the attacks, or had ever lived in the county for at least five consecutive years. The 281 names grew to 344.

Five years just seemed like a solid number, Siegel said. It s unfortunate, but you do have to draw lines because otherwise you can never move forward and get it done.

Even so, since the dedication, the foundation has learned of three more people who died on Sept. 11 and who meet the criteria. They will be added to the memorial, and Siegel said the foundation would consider some kind of recognition for recovery workers, if there was enough of an outpouring or request for us to do that.

The mayor, who is chairman of the foundation building the national Sept. 11 memorial at the former trade center site, made his commitment to honor recovery workers after meeting with the family of retired city police officer James Zadroga, who died of a lung disease after working hundreds of hours amid the toxic dust and debris at Ground Zero.

His promise came after he apologized to the family for saying Zadroga was not a hero because the city medical examiner determined improper drug use caused his lung disease.

We will find a dignified way to honor his … sacrifice, said the mayor after the meeting. But questions such as how recovery workers like Zadroga will be honored, and what criteria will be used to determine which ones should be included, remain unanswered.

All Bloomberg has said so far is that recovery workers will be honored in a separate spot than the 2,973 people killed in the terrorist attacks.

Robert DeSilva, chairman of the committee trying to build a Long Island 9/11 memorial on the campus of Farmingdale State College, knows the mayor s dilemma well.

From the start, DeSilva, a retired firefighter, said the memorial would honor all Long Islanders – past and present – who died in the 9/11 attacks, no strings attached, as well as recovery workers who died from exposure to toxic dust and debris.

We will tell that story in a different segment of our building, but how we do it and who we do it for, if we list names or just organizations – that could be bit more difficult, DeSilva said. These people went there to do the right thing, and if you went there and you died that day, or if it took two years to die – is there a difference? It s still the same thing.