When North Riverside marks the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. in a few months, the event will take on a special significance.
The village will unveil a memorial that includes a shard of steel from the North Tower of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the attack. After the ceremony, the 18-by-22-inch hunk of steel beam will be mounted on a wooden platform and displayed along with a scale model of a New York fire truck inside the North Riverside Village Commons building at 2401 Desplaines Ave.
While many municipalities have stopped officially marking the events of Sept. 11, North Riverside’s annual memorial ceremony has grown in the past five years, thanks to part-time police/fire dispatcher Ralph Zaccariello, who has made the ceremony a mission.
“Prior to this we would lower the flag with members of the VFW of North Riverside present, say a prayer and that was it,” Zaccariello said. “It would take three minutes.
“When [Fire] Chief [Ken] Rouleau took over, I proposed the idea to step it up a bit,” he added. Chief Rouleau said, ‘Go ahead,’ so I designed a ceremony that’s not only a remembrance of 9/11 but to those who have lost their lives in the present year and those working in the emergency services.
“I like to say it’s gotten bigger and better.”
It’s also because of Zaccariello that the village has a memento of that tragic day.
“After last year’s 9/11 ceremony, word went out that pieces of steel were available” from the New York Port Authority, said Zaccariello. Applicants had to also state how the item would be cared for and displayed.
“Ralph brought it to my attention,” said Rouleau, who gave the dispatcher the authority to apply for the steel, which Zaccariello did last October. In March, he received a letter from the port authority with the information on the piece of steel being shipped to North Riverside. The box arrived in early April.
“It’s kind of eerie, you know,” said Rouleau, whose office is the temporary home of the steel beam. “Everyone I’ve shown it to feels the same thing, knowing where it was and how it happened.
“I think it’s pretty honorable. It’s a reverence thing,” Rouleau added. “Everyone feels different – it’s just a piece of metal – but you feel something. I’d hope it means that to a lot of firemen.”
Zaccariello has been a part-time dispatcher in North Riverside for 10 years and works full-time in that capacity for LaGrange Park.
After taking over the task of organizing North Riverside’s 9/11 ceremony, Zaccariello has been able to draw police officers and firefighters to attend from a number of surrounding departments. He also has been able to enlist the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) Division 20 Honor Guard and the Chicago Police Department Pipes and Drums Corps.
“The addition of those two groups has added so much credence and importance to our ceremony,” Zaccariello said. “My initial goal when I started five years ago was to be the place to be on 9/11.”