A Day of Remembrance and Reflection: Easton Commemorates 9/11

On a sunny, breezy day, much like Sept. 11, 2001, Easton residents gathered on the 9/11 memorial green across from Easton Town Hall to remember and mourn on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Terrorists killed 2,977 people from 93 nations, including three with direct connections to Easton, Peter, Kim Sue, and Christine Hanson. They were on the plane that struck the South Tower.

Procession of flags. Easton’s 9/11 ceremony commemorates 20 years since the attacks.

An estimated 150 community members of all ages attended the Sept. 11 ceremony. Participants honored the memory of all who perished in the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001 and also recognized the 13 service men and women who were killed in Afghanistan last month.

Vanessa Elias, a friend of Peter Burton Hanson, recounts how 9/11 touched her family and friends.

The ringing of the bells at 8:46 preceded the ceremony, which opened with the procession of flags, accompanied by patriotic songs performed by the Joel Barlow High School choir. Vincent Caprio, a 9/11 survivor, raised the American flag. Randy Shapiro, also a 9/11 survivor, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Local musician Dan Tressler sang a rousing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Dori Wollen, a close friend of the Hanson family, served as master of ceremonies. First Selectman David Bindelglass gave welcoming remarks and recognized the event organizers, June Logie and Beverlee Dacey, as well as the other volunteers who made the event possible.

“We were incredibly touched as a town by the events of 9/11. It was a national nightmare, but out of nightmares heroes are often born. In Easton’s case, that was Eunice and Lee Hanson, who have since done so much for the victims and survivors,” Bindelglass said. He cited their extensive philanthropy.

The U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, Life Star, and American Red Cross were represented. Some sent letters recounting the harrowing details of the event 20 years ago, still fresh in their memories. Special guests included Chaplain John Revell Domini, who gave the invocation and benediction; (Mac) McDonald, Sergeant First Class, United States Army (retired); Colonel Halima Tiffany, United States Army (retired), EMS Chief Jonathan Arnold, Police Chief Richard Doyle, Fire Chief Steven Waugh and Vincent Mase, Easton Scout Master and the Easton Boy Scouts. Paula Barker shared her experience of losing her best friend, Peter Hanson, on that terrible day.

The Fallen Comrades Table was set to symbolize and honor service members who have fallen in the line of duty, remembering their sacrifices and those of their families. The table is round, to show everlasting respect for fallen comrades. The cloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to serve. Each item on the table represents the emotions and feelings we share for those who did not come home.  

The Joel Barlow High School choir sings patriotic songs.

The Stories

Speakers shared their first-hand accounts of the day. Eunice Hanson attended the memorial service to mourn the loss of her son, Peter, daughter-in-law, Sue-Kim, and granddaughter, Christine Lee. They were on United Airline Flight 175, which was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

Hanson likened the day to 9/11. “Sunny just like this one,” she said. “Little wind breeze and a blue sky. It happened and I look back on it and I realize that I remember very little of those first days, and it dawned on me when my husband hung up the phone (with son Peter on the plane). I saw the look on his face, and he uttered the words, ‘He’s gone.’

“My husband was never the same,” Hanson continued. “So, I consider, 9/11 took my husband as well. The only thing he did not change was his love for people. And as bad as he felt, when Peter died, he never said an evil word.”

The subsequent loss of Lee Hanson, Eunice’s husband of 64 years, intensified her pain. “My husband died three years ago, and I will tell you, I’ve felt 9/11 more since he died. We sort of comforted each other, just being together,” she said.  

Their tragedy inspired a group of Easton residents to fund and build the 9/11 Memorial to honor those who were lost and to serve as a reminder for future generations. It was dedicated on June 3, 2012. Two low stone walls symbolize the twin towers and are set in exact proportion to them. They represent strength and endurance. The memorial enhances the beauty of the green and provides comfort to visitors.

Three benches memorialize the Hanson family: Peter, who grew up in Easton, his wife, Sue Kim, and daughter, Christine. 2 1/2. “I feel so wonderful knowing I have such a wonderful family. My family, my community, just wonderful,” said Eunice Hanson.  

Vanessa Elias, a longtime and close friend of Peter Hanson, related how her husband was in the South Tower when Flight 175, carrying her friend and his family, crashed into it. Her husband miraculously got out and called her an hour later, describing the horror he had witnessed.

“A couple of hours later, the very same day on Sept. 11, I got a package from our friends Pete and Sue,” Elias said. “It was a baby gift for our six-week-old baby girl. I wouldn’t open it because I wanted my husband there with me, so I waited until Eugene got home the next day.

“It wasn’t until a few days later, after we had escaped to Vermont, when I got a phone call from my mom. ‘Vanessa,, honey, I have to tell you something. You knew someone on that plane. It was Pete, his wife, and little Christine.’ My own scream still haunts me. The plane that had hit my husband’s building was carrying Pete, Sue, and little Christine.”

You can hear the full text of Elias’s speech here.  Elias and Barker placed memorial wreaths at the site.

Dr. Thomas McMorran, interim school superintendent, said it was important to come together as a community on this significant anniversary. “Eunice, you and Lee have taught us that love conquers the deepest and darkest cruelty that can be dealt to a family,” McMorran said.

Vanessa Elias places a wreath in honor of the Hanson family.

“By your example you and Lee taught us to hold true to our convictions, our faith in divine justice, and that our American way of life can rise, can sustain itself in the virtues of a new generation. For nearly 20 years, through your philanthropic efforts, through the many scholarships and endowments you have offered the youth of Easton and Redding and through your heroic pursuit of justice, you have made an indelible mark on the rest of us. We honor you; we share in your sorrow, we hope that He who gathers all good people will, in His good time, make your whole,“ McMorran said.

The ceremony concluded with four sets of five bell rings by Chief Waugh, and the presentation of wreaths. Patty Jurgielewicz, of Balloon Whimzy, crafted a large American flag that served as a backdrop.

Participants added their thoughts about the day. “The anniversary is also a time to remember all those who have been affected since,” said Caprio.“ The 4,700 responders and survivors who have died of 9/11-related illnesses, and their grieving families, and the 83,000 who are suffering from serious medical and mental health conditions.”

“We promised never to forget and that’s what this is about, to really honor those who were lost, those who served, and those who are grieving,” said Logie.

“It’s nice to see our community coming together here,” Tressler said after the ceremony. “This makes me feel like we are more of a family.”

Many lingered after the ceremony — much like a family reunion.

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