PHOENIX - Most gatherings by the river in Henley Park are joyous occasions … highlighted with friendships and sometimes music or other community activities. But every year, the Phoenix community sets time aside to “never forget” the events of Sept. 11, 2001, marking the 18th anniversary this year. Families gather, along with honor guard, boy scouts, fire and police department who all come to pay their respects, inspired by the multitude of people who died and those who sacrificed to rescue and recover around the country on 9/11.
And even in small town Phoenix, there are people touched by these tragedies, for whom the depth of remembrance lights their way even today. Police Chief Martin Nerber is one such resident, coming to the Vigil podium every year, remembering and telling stories – forever remembering the names of those lost. His story this year touched very close to home in Central New York. Never forget.
“Some of you weren’t even born 18 years ago, on this day that we all should not forget. It was a day that I remember clearly.
A beautiful sunny day, a day that brought us together as a nation and changed the way we look at the security of this great Country forever. Even though tragic, the feeling on the 12th of September is one that I wish would have lasted amongst us. We were one and it was genuine. For the past seven years I have been addressing you all on this date, and each year I introduce you to the victims of 9/11 and who they were so that they may not be forgotten. I have told the stories of Gerald Atwood of New York City and James Barbella of Oceanside, New York, and many others including our first responders so that they would not be forgotten.
It has been said that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken. That we are only truly gone when we disappear from the memories of those who loved us.
Unfortunately this year I will speak of a great hero that most of us know and have somehow in some way had his life touch ours. His name is Sgt. Jeffrey Cicora of the New York State Police. Sgt. Cicora passed away on Aug. 10, 2019. He was just 54 years old, he left his wife (Valerie) and his son (Jack) as he started his eternal journey.
I had the honor of escorting him home with several of his blue family members from Clayton, NY and as we left the area there were citizens lined up on the road with American flags- that was a September 12th feeling for me…
Often citizens see our uniform and that’s all they see. They complain that we are doing this wrong or that wrong and we should always be out arresting the real criminals. We have made it easy for them to hide and complain behind a keyboard, but many don’t see the human side of us. They don’t see or know the story that lives under that uniform.
When I was a Clay officer that uniform that Jeff wore was often my back up. Jeff was a familiar face to the Northern part of Onondaga County and was always there especially when you needed him. He wore that uniform with great pride and professionalism. Under that uniform was a trooper who took that call to respond to NYC to help recovery efforts after the attack, not knowing that 18 years later that call for help would ultimately take his life.
That same uniform also held Lori Breshnahan and comforted her and her child, both victims of a brutal murder/assault. Jeff was the last person she had felt comfort with before she passed away. He was the first on scene and led the search for the monster that took her life.
Under that uniform was a loving father and husband who loved to fish and spend time in Clayton. So I would challenge you all to get to know the person under the uniform. These policeman and firemen would lay their lives down for you, even total strangers as Jeff did. I believe he is a Hero in every sense of the word and will certainly be missed. His legacy will live on as he touched many lives. He will be remembered and honored.
As recently as Aug. 29 we also lost former Cayuga County Undersheriff Stephen McCloud who also died of cancer related to his time spent at the world trade center, another hero who answered that call and wore his uniform with pride.
Lest we not forget the thousands who died that day and those that continue to die - speak their names, keep their memories alive. Stay mad and stay vigilant so that history does not repeat itself, and always remember that day, and try to keep that Sept. 12 feeling everyday in this great country we live in.
Lastly, take comfort in knowing that there are Sgt. Cicora’s and Undersheriff McCloud’s wearing the uniform that are willing to lay their lives down for all of you.
Phoenix Police Chief Martin Nerber