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'A Day Of Coming Together': Volunteers Gather For Acts Of Service Across Boston On 20th Anniversary Of 9/1103:59
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An American flag memorial, created by younger volunteers at an event on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, bears the names of 9/11 victims with ties to Massachusetts. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)
An American flag memorial, created by younger volunteers at an event on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, bears the names of 9/11 victims with ties to Massachusetts. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)

Ninth-grader Charlie Hernandez, of Abington, wasn't alive to witness 9/11, but she thinks about that day often. A memorial is in her town for resident Jeffrey Coombs who was on American Airlines Flight 11.

"When I walk my dog, I walk past a piece of the World Trade Center," she said, referencing the 250-pound steel beam from the World Trade Center complex that sits atop a granite monument. "To me, 9/11 is a day of coming together to make a positive impact and difference in my community ... as a resident of a town that was impacted by the events of 9/11 and is also home to a Gold Star family, I've always watched people turn tragedy into goodness."

She was one of about 130 young people — people born years after 9/11 — who came to the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston to assemble care packages for American military personnel overseas and unhoused veterans in Boston. It was an event organized by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund and Project 351.

About 130 people born years after 9/11 came to the Rose Kennedy Greenway on Sept. 11, 2021 to assemble care packages. (Quincy Walter/WBUR)
About 130 people born years after 9/11 came to the Rose Kennedy Greenway on Sept. 11, 2021 to assemble care packages. (Quincy Walter/WBUR)

Fourteen-year-old Vanston Ly, of Quincy, said he's somewhat of a history buff, so the images and stories are arresting. But he said now, this 20th anniversary, he's thinking about it from an altruistic point of view.

"The day has a new meaning to me — all the sacrifices that were made, the amazing heroes that went into the buildings to save others. It's really inspirational," he said, working with other teens to gather bags of necessities to donate to veterans in need. "If we work together, we can achieve a greater America and a greater world."

Saturday brought back fresh hurt and healing for volunteer Gina Galarza, who was an adult when 9/11 happened and experienced the tremendous ensuing loss.

"They say never to forget and the only way you can never forget is to actively remember," she said, packing comfort blankets for troops oversees. "That's why we do these acts of service, to continue that legacy of kindness and compassion."

Gina Galarza, of Taunton, volunteered at Rose Kennedy Greenway on Sept. 11, 2021 to assemble care packages for American military personnel overseas and to unhoused veterans in Boston. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)
Gina Galarza, of Taunton, volunteered at Rose Kennedy Greenway on Sept. 11, 2021 to assemble care packages for American military personnel overseas and to unhoused veterans in Boston. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)

The nurse from Taunton remembers walking around a pond in Milton that morning after working a 12-hour shift when a stranger asked if she heard what happened.

"I went home and sat and cried and was devastated," Galarza said.

She said her lifelong friend's sister-in-law was on American Airlines Flight 11, one of the hijacked planes that departed Logan Airport and was intentionally flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

"The day has personal meaning for me and it's a day you'll never forget," Galarza said. "It's just the spirit of kindness today."

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of people across the country rushed to donate blood, allured by the hope that survivors would be pulled from the rubble. Cambridge resident Rob Barber, who was among those blood donors, has come to Fenway Park to donate blood almost every year since.

On Saturday, Fenway hosted the American Red Cross for its annual blood drive.

Rob Barber, of Cambridge, is pictured outside of the American Red Cross blood drive held at Fenway Park. He has donated blood almost every year since Sept. 11, 2001. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)
Rob Barber, of Cambridge, is pictured outside of the American Red Cross blood drive held at Fenway Park. He has donated blood almost every year since Sept. 11, 2001. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)

"I'm just so very proud to be doing a little bit today in recognition of all that was sacrificed by thousands, 20 years ago," he said. "This is carrying forth the goodness that flowed from that tragedy and continues to flow."

Earlier Saturday, a 20th year commemoration ceremony was held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Dorchester. The names of 206 victims who had close ties to Massachusetts were read aloud. The Madeline Amy Sweeney Award for Bravery was also awarded, and went to Gardner Resident Annette Szivos who saved a man from drowning in June.

This segment aired on September 12, 2021.

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Quincy Walters Twitter Reporter
Quincy Walters is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.

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