By MICHELLE FIRESTONE
Chronicle Staff Writer
WILLIMANTIC â€” For pupils at St. Mary-St. Joseph School in Willimantic, Sept. 11, 2001, is a day from their history books â€” a day that happened long before they were born.
For their teachers and parents, the day when nearly 3,000 people were killed at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., was one of unimaginable horror.
But it was also a day when the heroism of first responders â€” police, firefighters and paramedics â€” was brought to a tragic light, with more than 400 of these heroes among the death toll.
Monday, the entire St. Mary-St. Joseph student body visited local first responders to not only remember what happened 16 years ago, but to thank those in town who would do what those in New York and Washington did that fateful day.
â€śWe are all human and we all want to feel loved and appreciated,â€ť said St. Mary-St. Joseph School Principal Abby Demars.
The Catholic school went to the Willimantic Public Fire Safety Complex on Monday, its pupils thanking police officers and firefighters by giving them baskets of snacks and homemade cards.
â€ś9/11 is an important day for all of us,â€ť Willimantic Police Chief Roberto Rosado said.
Demars said the event was designed to remember a â€śvery sad dayâ€ť in American history.
â€śDuring this prayer service, I ask you to please keep in mind those who lost their lives that day, those who were injured and all of their families,â€ť she said.
The Rev. Larry LaPointe, pastor of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church and St. Joseph Church, led a blessing for first responders who serve during times of crisis.
Demars said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks taught us to â€śnever miss the opportunity to tell someone we love them.â€ť
â€śThese 3,000 people went to work that day and never returned home,â€ť Demars said. â€śThey were husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Their families will never be the same.â€ť
She said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also taught us about charity.
â€śThose of us that lived through Sept. 11, 2001, remember how the nation came together to support one another,â€ť Demars said. â€śGender, race and religion did not matter. People reached out to help one another.â€ť
Willimantic Fire Department Capt. Ron Palmer, who has been with the department for 21 years, said many Willimantic firefighters were prepared to go to New York City to assist after the terrorist attacks.
â€śWe have a personal connection,â€ť he said after the event Monday.
Palmer was referring to Aron Buch, who was a Willimantic firefighter for eight years before becoming a New York City firefighter in 1999.
Buch, who is still a New York City firefighter, was actively involved with Ground Zero recovery efforts after the attacks.
Palmer said remembering Sept. 11 â€śkeeps everything in perspectiveâ€ť and reminds people about â€śhow precious life is.â€ť
Palmer said the gesture from St. Mary-St. Joseph pupils was â€śvery humblingâ€ť and touching because it came from students who werenâ€™t born when the terrorist attacks occurred.
Demars said during Catholic Schools Week last school year, the school hosted a dress-down day where students who donated $1 or more were allowed to wear clothes other than their uniforms.
Demars said the school raised about $250, money that went toward baskets full of snacks and will be used to give the officers and firefighters more treats in the future.
She said it was a â€śtoken of appreciationâ€ť for local first responders.
Willimantic police officers and firefighters said they were touched by the gesture.
â€śIt means a lot,â€ť said Rosado, noting it was the second year such an event was held.
Windham Town Manager James Rivers, who attended the event, also spoke about the significance of the gesture.
â€śI think itâ€™s another example of Windham coming together,â€ť he said.