On the morning of September 11, Avella and his team stopped by all 28 sites, from Flushing, College Point and Whitestone to Auburndale, Murray Hill and Bayside. At some points along the way, he met with family members of fallen firefighters, police officers and local residents who perished during the tragedy.
“One thing about 9/11 is everybody knew somebody,” Avella said. “If you didn’t have somebody directly in your family, you knew somebody whose family was affected.”
When Avella served in the City Council, he supported renaming numerous streets to honor those who died in the Twin Towers. But he started the memorial wreath ceremonies to serve as a reminder to local residents that “these were people from your own community who died on that day.”
“It’s important to remember those people,” he said. “Just like my father’s generation has Pearl Harbor, this is our generation’s.
“We just need to constantly remember freedom is not cheap,” Avella added. “It comes with a price. Every now and then, people stand up to defend that liberty.”
This is the 13th year Avella has honored the fallen on September 11. For the first decade, he brought the families on a motorcade to each site.
“I remember the first year we did it, we had 25 cars follow us,” he said. “We had a police escort.”
Over the years, some of the families moved away, Avella said. Others go down to the 9/11 memorial site in Lower Manhattan on the day of remembrance. The remaining families often meet Avella at the specific intersection honoring their loved ones.
But Avella said he’ll remember the first year, which he called “a very emotional experience.” He met with each family member and gave a speech at every location. At the end of the day, he felt “emotionally drained.”
“As time goes on, we feel a little less connected emotionally, but it’s still something I remember when I go to each site, some of the families that I met,” Avella said. “Every person we honor and who passed away had a life, had a family and left behind loved ones. It still wrenches at your heart.”