The sun was shining on Reeves Beach in Riverhead on Friday, reflecting off the sparkling waves. The beach, warm and inviting, looked much as it did the day, 11 years ago, when Bob Kelly last saw his brother, Thomas Kelly, for the last time.
Kelly, who lived in Riverhead full-time,one of seven members of Engine 219, Ladder 105 who died on September 11 after the terrorist attacks.
While Tommy has been gone for 11 years, the memories of his brother are vivid for Bob Kelly, who remembered him on Friday at a that stands on the corner of Sound Avenue and Thomas Kelly Memorial Drive, formerly known as Park Road.
Standing at the large stone memorial, Kelly said his brother is never far from his thoughts. "He's always right there," he said. " What I miss most about him is his personality," Kelly said. His brother, Kelly said, was a "character," a practical joker; the pair shared endless laughs as they "tag teamed" to tease Tommy's girlfriend and others, all in good fun.
In the days before September 11, Kelly said his brother, who was 38 when he died, was due for a promotion to lieutenant. "Life is a roller coaster, and his life was on an uptick. He was on top of the world," Kelly said.
The Kellys, who were born in Ozone Park, Queens, spent their summers in Reeves Park, and their parents still live in the bungalow that belonged to their grandfather.
That last weekend, the last weekend Kelly ever spent with his brother, savoring the last sunny days of summer, was spent on their beloved Reeves Beach. "That place is heaven," Kelly said.
Talking about the future, the brothers were laughing, "cackling like crows," Kelly said. "He was supposed to be promoted to lieutenant, and it was fast-tracked, because he did really well on the test," Kelly said. "He had made a promise to me that he woud work in my firehouse." The pair planned to drive to work together, filling the days with laughter as they bantered in their usual way. His eyes filled with tears, Kelly said, "The things that might have been."
On the morning of September 11, Kelly said he was at his own firehouse. "I tried to call him, that morning," he said. "I callled his firehouse and they said, 'Tommy's working.' And that was it. I never got to say good-bye."
The loss of his brother is a lifelong ache in the hearts of the Kelly family. "Everything changed after that day," Kelly said.
For Kelly's children, the loss of their "Uncle Tommy" was devastating. "If you were a 12-year-old, Uncle Tommy was the best," Kelly said. "He was mischievous, like a kid, but he was smart and adventurous. He could do anything."
His parents, who are elderly, have "aged so much" since their son's death, and are now facing failing health. That's one reason why Kelly has been hoping that the groundbreaking for a 9/11 memorial park, which has been planned for almost 10 years at the 4.1 acre parcel, would be ready for the 9/11 memorial service on Tuesday.
Instead, although a groundbreaking was originally planned for May, the process is stalled again at the Suffolk County level, due, Kelly said, to a change in administration.
The final deal was signed three years ago, Kelly said, and the wait has been long. The process itself has gone on for years, with the owner of the parcel, Kenn Barra, originally proposing to commercially develop the site. The idea was met with neighborhood opposition and the county eventually agreed to purchase the parcel for preservation.
Kelly, who has , has said, "You couldn't pick a nicer place to have a memorial."
A memorial garden would be planted at the site, with butterfly bushes, paths, and benches for quiet reflection, Kelly said. In addition, the stone and memorial that now stand would be moved back to sit near a large tree, much like the "tree of life" that stands at Ground Zero at the new memorial. Moving the monument back would make it easier for those visiting the park to stand and pay their respects, he said.
The memorial park, Kelly said, would be a place for everyone, to remember not only his brother, but all the lives lost on that tragic day -- and to remember, too, the Ground Zero workers who toiled at the site for months and are now becoming sick and, in some cases, dying from their subsequent illnesses.
Kelly, who spent months at Ground Zero after 9/11, recently lost a friend who became sick in the months after the rescue efforts.
In February, as Suffolk County legislators considered , some were concerned about the future of the 9/11 memorial park, which has a .
An the management of the property was one of several indicators that gave the plot a relatively high score on the county's rating system for preserving parcels.
On Friday, Kelly thanked the town of Riverhead for their support and agreement to steward the managment of the parcel, and said his hope is to work with the current Suffolk County administration to transform the long-held vision for the Sound Avenue 9/11 memorial park into a a reality.
Plans for the project are moving slowly, Kelly said. "It's moving at a snail's pace," he said. "It should have been a done deal by now. It's really important that this project makes it to the light of day."
A 9/11 service will be held on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the corner of Sound Avenue and Thomas Kelly Memorial Drive, where the public is invited to gather and remember lives tragically lost.