Each year, the Wilton Fire Department organizes a moving ceremony to honor those who served and who were lost on September 11, 2001. This year’s service paid tribute to the selfless dedication all first responders, as noted in the speech of Wilton’s first selectman, Lynne Vanderslice, who had special thanks for the men and women who bravely serve Wilton, calling them the town’s inspiration and role models of how to make sacrifices to help others in order to honor those lost 16 years ago.
“Many of us, myself included, would have run away from a burning building. After all, it is a basic human instinct. Since becoming First Selectman I’ve given a lot of thought to what motivates our first responders. Why are they willing to make personal sacrifices for others? What sets them apart from the rest of us?
“As a mother and a spouse, I also think a lot about their spouses and their children and their parents. 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.
“When residents ask me why Wilton’s firefighters and police officer chose their profession, I say I don’t know. But what I do know and those residents also know is that we are grateful for what you do. We are grateful for whatever it is inside of you that motivates you to help others and to put others first. And we are grateful to your families for providing with the necessary support to do what you do.
The morning’s keynote speaker was former Wilton kindergarten teacher and longtime resident Robyn Reeves, whose husband, Phil Reeves, a U.S. Army veteran and professional firefighter, passed away last February. She gave a moving speech about her and Phil’s experience on September 11–Robin’s in the classroom with her young students and Phil’s at ground zero doing search and rescue after the attacks.
We’ve reprinted her speech with permission below, and it’s a moving reminder about what service and commitment means, and the lasting effects tragedy can have in the way we approach helping others and giving back. They’re a reminder about how personal the day was for everyone, in small and large ways, and how directly Wilton was touched in ways that will remain with us forever.
The entire ceremony was reflective of how Wilton pulls together in times of joy and solemnity. Each emergency service department offered words through a representative–Capt. Tom Conlan of Wilton’s Police Department; John Miscioscia, the president of the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps; ad Chief Ronald Kanterman of the Wilton Fire Department. There were musical tributes as well, with Wilton police officer Anna Tornello singing “Amazing Grace,” and the National Anthem sung by Lt. William Wilson, as well as retired apparatus supervisor Ralph Nathanson playing the bagpipes.
It was meaningful and personal, and a very special morning.
Remarks of Robin Reeves
Wilton, CT 9/11 Memorial Service, Sept. 11, 2017
Within our lives we all experience certain events that are similar. A birthday, the first day of school, graduation, a wedding, anniversaries and the list goes on. We all share this commonality but these events occur in their own time within our lives. With each event, there is a story that is created by what occurs during that moment. As a kindergarten teacher, I learned quickly that each day is filled with stories, whether they are true or created by an active young mind. I was always told to write down the funny stories each day and share them with others. I had good intentions to do just that but being a kindergarten teacher is exhausting work and by the end of the day I couldn’t get it down on paper. If I had truly written down the great stories, I would be able to share with you all the happening of each home in Wilton and may have been on the bestsellers list.
Although we do share these events at different times in our lives, there is one moment that stands out for me that we all shared together as a nation, September 11th, 2001. At the exact moment, we received the same news that affected all of our lives. We all felt the impact in different ways but we were in it together. We all have vivid stories of what we were doing, who we were with and how we reacted. It is a moment in time that cannot be erased from our memories and they help to keep those that lost their lives in our thoughts of remembrance and prayers.
Being a kindergarten teacher at what was then, Driscoll School, as well as, a mother, a fire fighter’s wife and a military spouse in 2001, I have many stories to tell. I would like to take a few moments to share some of my story with you.
On the day of September 11th 2001, I remember it 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. 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. I remember standing there in disbelief and then looking at Mary, knowing that our beautiful day had changed into something that was quite surreal. Within seconds, I had to put on my teacher face and persona and be with my 18 kindergartners. I had to make it feel like any other day for those sweet 4 and 5 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. Many parents felt the same way and a flood of moms and dads came to pick up their children, where they were able to hold them in their arms for comfort and a feeling of safety. For each child that was excused from class, the questions from the remaining children became more direct. 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. At some point in the late morning, all the children were sent home to be with their families, where they could discuss in each household what happened that morning.
When each child was safely on the bus to go home, I was able to get my daughter, Becca, from her kindergarten classroom. 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. 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.
When we arrived, I have a very vivid image of Phil standing in front of the tv with Isaac (who was a toddler at the time) playing in the living room. After a tremendous hug, 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. 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. I remembering Phil packing a bag and leaving that evening to meet up with a group from the BFD. He later told us stories of taking the train down at night, transferring to a bus, and then taking a ferry to get to Ground Zero. He spent several days there, working beside fire fighters from many towns in rescue efforts. We have pictures at home that show the devastation and extreme conditions that these brave men worked in. Of course, at home, I was extremely concerned about Phil and what was happening. I don’t remember much communication because we were not big into cell phones and social media back then. So, watching the news was the best information I could get.
At home, I received the devastating news of the men from Wilton that lost their lives during the attacks. 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. It all seemed a little too close to home and we were all there to support Mary and her family.
The passing of John Iskyan was also a personal connection. I had known the family, since I had had his daughter in my class several years prior. I, like Phil, had this need to try to help where I could. 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. She 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.
As the days went on after 9/11, through the sorrow that we all felt, 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. We saw more flags being flown, more bumper stickers for America on cars and other symbols to show our American strength.
But that is not where the Reeves Family’s story ends. September 11th 2001 changed and shaped the course of our journey for life. We learned to be a strong military family as Phil became a medavac pilot, flight instructor and later, safety officer for the Massachusetts National Guard. 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, 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. We take this day to remember those that lost their lives 16 years ago. We continue to hold them in our heart and thoughts. Here in Wilton, we especially remember Edward Fergus, Peter Fry, John Iskyan, John Henwood, and Edward York. 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, fire fighters, police men and women. They will always remind 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.