Immediately after learning about the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, New Canaan Police Officer Jeffrey Deak said he volunteered to join a half-dozen officers the department gathered to go to ground aero to assist in search and rescue efforts.
An 18-year veteran of the New Canaan department, Deak and his wife were familiar with the buildings after having lived in Jersey City, N.J., earlier in their marriage.
"Every police officer in the world knows what they've signed up for," Deak said. "We wanted to be there to see if there was something we could do."
Deak remembered how the shock of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon reinforced his loyalty and belief in the United States.
"I was always very patriotic, but the attacks on 9/11 brought it into perspective about how much I cared about this country and how very offended I was that someone had attacked us on our own soil," Deak said.
Scores of area police and their families packed into St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in New Canaan Sunday morning to celebrate the Diocese of Bridgeport's annual Blue Mass to mark the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and honor law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical service personnel who serve in the region.
In the attacks, 343 firefighters and paramedics and 60 New York Police and Transit Authority police perished.
During the Mass, Deak, New Canaan Fire Capt. Michael Socci and Darien Post 53 Emergency Medical Technician Grant Nelson were given special awards from the diocese recognizing their commitment to protect the public.
In his homily on the Gospel reading from the Book of Mark Chapter 7, Scheyd drew a parallel between how members of the community of Tyre by the Sea of Galilee brought a deaf man to Jesus Christ for healing and the way society views police, fire, and emergency medical technicians as their guardians when in need of protection or help.
In the story, Jesus Christ orders the man's ears "be opened," then asks the crowd not to keep what he did a secret.
"We see them and know that they are people who care about others," Scheyd said. " ... They fulfill a principle that goes right back to the will of God himself for the care and protection of those is need."
At the conclusion of the Mass, a combined color guard, including police, firefighters and EMS technicians from Stamford, Bridgeport, Norwalk, Newtown and other departments, presented the colors as taps was played on bugle before the congregation sang "God Bless America."
Grant Nelson, a 2011 Darien High School graduate and president of Darien Emergency Medical Services Post 53, did not attend the Mass, but in reading his nomination, Doyle said Nelson's contribution to his community set an example to many youths who were abandoning traditional values such as service.
Socci, a 23-year veteran of the New Canaan Fire Department, received his award in recognition of his lead role over the past two years to design and construct a Sept. 11 monument in New Canaan, working with town officials and local companies to complete the task.
After being completed before last year's anniversary, the monument is now on display outside the New Canaan Fire Department.
The monument includes a 1,400 pound steel beam that was once part of the World Trade Center and a pentagon-shaped base to commemorate the attack on the Pentagon, which was struck by American Airlines Flight 77. Four metal doves in flight are attached to the base of the sculpture to symbolize the four airplanes used in the attacks.
"We realized that we wanted to have something permanent done for the 10th anniversary last year and realized we had a short period of time to get it done," Socci said. "It took a lot of work but I think it turned out beautifully."
Socci, who volunteered for nearly three weeks after the attacks to help set up Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, N.Y., as a temporary sorting ground for rubble from the World Trade Center, said his experience helped reinforce his sense of mission as a public safety worker.
"It definitely made me appreciate my life more but also realized the responsibility we have to serve the community the way they deserve," Socci said.