Fred Haschak, a retired Bridgeport firefighter with his Flag of Honor paying tribute to 9/11 victims, silhouetted against the Westport waterfront at the state’s memorial to those killed in terrorist attacks 20 years ago. / Photo by Gary Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — The painful memories of Sept. 11, 2001, may recede as time passes, as everyday life is engulfed by current worries like COVID-19, political strife and economic uncertainty. 

But even for those Americans not yet born on that Sept. 11 two decades ago, the world has been transformed. 

We still can’t, and never will be able, to board an airplane without being searched, or wave hello or goodbye to relatives directly at an airport gate. We wonder if a future act of foreign or domestic terrorism (such as the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013) might forever change our lives, the lives of loved ones or our community. 

But for the families and friends of those who lost their lives on that fateful day, each Sept. 11 remains a vivid reminder of unfathomable personal loss.

Westport, Sept. 11, 2001

Lost:

Keith E. Coleman, 34; Scott Thomas Coleman, 31

Two brothers from Westport lost their lives together on Sept. 11, 2001, after one of two hijacked planes was flown into the World Trade Center’s north tower, where they worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. The financial firm lost 685 of its employees on that day. 

The Colemans were both graduates of Staples High School. “Until Sept. 11, I have never known a day without my brothers,” Todd D. Coleman, Keith and Scott’s older brother, said in a profile published in “The New York Times” in October 2001. 

“I will try to live my life in a manner that will be worthy of their respect and admiration,”  their brother said at their memorial service. “Their memory reminds me that the world can be a wonderful place.”

Keith Coleman, who lived with his family in Warren, N.J., was the father of two children, a son, and a daughter, who was only four months old at the time of his death. A graduate of Bucknell University, he married his college sweetheart and became a senior vice president and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald. Keith brought his brother Scott into the company.

Scott Coleman, the youngest Coleman brother, was a resident of Weston and an equities broker at the firm. He was engaged to be married at the time of his death. He graduated from the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, and the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University. He was an athlete with a passion for many sports.

Johnathan J. Uman, 33

Johnathan J. Uman was a managing director for Cantor Fitzgerald, working on the 105th floor of the tower. He left two young children and his wife, who hosted a party for 800 people to honor her husband, followed by a memorial service for him the following day. 

“Nothing pleased him more than being with people he loved,” his wife said on the Cantor Fitzgerald tribute page. 

His two young children were the most important part of his life, she said. “He cried when they both entered the world and tended to them whenever he was home.” He loved Shakespeare, music and was interested in art.

Bradley H. Vadas, 37

Bradley Hodges Vadas was a senior vice president for Keefe Brayette & Woods Inc. with offices at the World Trade Center. He grew up in Weston, but lived in Westport and New York City at the time of his death. A 1986 graduate of Boston College with a degree in economics, he loved chess. He was about to become engaged. 

“Don’t worry, I’m safe , it’s not my building,” he told his father on the phone the day of the terrorist attacks. “But it’s bizarre, Dad, people are jumping out of the windows.” 

His father, Donald Vadas, told “The Hartford Courant”  that a short time later his son spoke to him again, “Dad, this is probably going to be our last conversation. I just want to tell you how much you mean to me, what a great dad you are. I love you.” His father, a resident of Westport, died in January 2020.

Remembering and honoring those who died

Those who were lost were remembered Thursday evening at the state’s 9/11 memorial service in Sherwood Island State Park, which take place each year to honor those with links to Connecticut who perished on that day.

The memorial is engraved with the names of Connecticut residents and others with links to the state who were killed in the attacks.

The site — a peninsula in the state park — was chosen for the 9/11 memorial because, in the hours following the attacks, people gathered there to observe the smoldering devastation that was visible from lower Manhattan.

“It’s a honor for Westport to be the home of this memorial and this service,” Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe, said after the formal ceremony, as family members lay white roses on the names of loved ones engraved on the stone memorial. 

“Every Westporter living here in 2001 was affected in some way,” he said. “I’m proud to have the memorial here.”

Gov. Ned Lamont agreed, as he too contemplated the monument after the ceremony. He called it “totally appropriate,” to hold the memorial service in Westport. “This is the part of the state that was hit the hardest,” he said. 

Lamont said that in his neighborhood in Greenwich, several residents lost their lives on 9/11. “There were many yellow ribbons on the trees on my street,” he recalled.

Sherwood Island also served as a staging area for the Connecticut National Guard’s relief efforts to New York City emergency services in the aftermath of the attacks.

During Thursday’s ceremony, Lamont called on Americans “to remember our common humanity.” In the days following the tragedy, “the world was as one,” he said. “There are some things that change us forever.” 

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz spoke of the primary elections that also were held in Connecticut that day. “Despite everything, a surge of people streamed to the polls because it was something patriotic they could do in that terrible moment to show their patriotic duty and the strength of our country under attack,” she said. 

A couple reads the names of 161 people, with ties to Connecticut, listed on the state’s memorial to those killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. / Photo by Gary Webster

Global tragedy, personal loss and resilience

Especially moving were the words of several family members of those who died, including Margaret Eckert, whose sister Beverly — a Stamford resident — was speaking to her husband Sean Rooney on the phone when the second World Trade tower fell and her husband was killed. 

“He was on the phone with his wife … when the south tower collapsed. With the phone still in her hand, my sister watched on TV while the south tower fell.”

Several years later, her sister Beverly died, also in a plane crash, while on her way to award a scholarship in her husband’s name in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., Margaret Eckert said. 

But for all the horror of 9/11, “That day people worked together to support each other. We smiled at strangers,” she said. “We were all just people caring for each other.  Kindness is a muscle that needs more exercise.”

Another speaker was Kathryn Hebert, whose brother Adam Lewis of Fairfield, was a trader for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods on the 80th floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower. The father of four died when the tower collapsed. 

“This annual reminder is a personal tragedy and it is quite difficult to deal with every year, but as my brother would want me to say, it is necessary,” she said. “I continue to remain always hopeful that we were learn from 9/11 … We must love and care for each other and work together.”

Carrying  a “Flag of Honor” listing the names of all those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, was Fred Haschak, a retired Bridgeport firefighter whose department lost one of its members that day.

Haschak attends the Sherwood Island memorial ceremony every year, he said, in remembrance of 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the attacks.

Among the Westporters participating in the ceremony were Rabbi Michael Friedman of Temple Israel, and the Rev. Cyrus Bartolome of Church of the Assumption, who gave an opening prayer and benediction, respectively. Also participating was Chris Vadas, the brother of Bradley Vadas, who led the pledge of allegiance. 

Although the immediate, shocking impact of the 9/11 terrorist attack may have passed, through the 20 years area residents continued to remember, and pay tribute to, the victims and their families, not only at the annual memorial service, but in other ways, too. 

Several students from Staples High School, for instance, have interned at the Voices for 9-11 Center for Resilience, a non-profit in New Canaan founded shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to help families and communities heal after tragedies.

Westport Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker recently served on the Board of Trustees of the Adam J. Lewis Academy in Bridgeport, an elementary school created in honor of the Fairfield father who died in the attacks. The school’s motto is “Hope Rising” and its mission, noted on its website, is “to give children in Bridgeport the same life-changing opportunity that Adam had, in a vibrant and exciting environment.”