Citation to Honor National Guard Members for their Service on 9/11 is Available Here
Governor Hochul: “In my opinion, they never got the recognition they deserved. It’s twenty years overdue, but I’m here to set that straight because I have seen what you’ve done. And I know what you continue to do. Some of you may have been there at the time, but those of you who also signed up after 9/11 I’ll always be in awe of that.”
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Governor Kathy Hochul has proposed legislation that would allow National Guard members to qualify as veterans under New York State law. Governor Hochul has also issued a Citation honoring members of the New York National Guard for their exemplary service both during and after the events of September 11, 2001.
AUDIO of today’s remarks is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
Good afternoon. For everyone in this room, it’s been a very emotionally draining day. The reminder, first of all, when you wake up and you see the crisp blue skies, they just bring back the once beautiful, but ultimately haunting memories of a day twenty years. And those of us who’ve been out there visiting families and thanking first responders and hugging a lot of people, it just reminds us of the very human toll that that day took on us. I mean, you can talk in the scale of numbers, 3,000 lives. I just left an event with firefighters, 343 and counting, over 250 died since 9/11 because of related illnesses. The stories go on and on. But we all have to remember, behind every number, there was a person who loved, who was loved and families that still sear in pain all these decades later.
It is in their memory that we continue to conduct these honor, these celebrations, if you will, remembrances not celebrations, but remembrances and know that we will continue to do so because they mattered. They were there when people needed them the most. Some were innocent victims just going to their jobs, but others literally had down uniforms and went into the unknown into the darkness with the smoke and no regard for their own lives, at their own costs they would ultimately endure.
That, my friends, is extraordinary and I will always be humbled by the thought that there’s people out there, like our National Guard, who are simply, by day, at times our neighbors, you see them in the grocery stores. They’re our teachers, they’re our laborers, they’re friends. But when duty calls they put on these uniforms, they suit up and are willing to do something that I still find so incredibly powerful. The act of courage to be able to put themselves out there on the front lines, to do what they’re required to do and do it for all of us. And it occurs to me that the National Guard was really onsite 9/11, twenty years ago when the skies needed to be protected because the threat came from the airs, the destruction came from the air and immediately our Air National Guard was deployed and they showed up to protect the skies from these terrorists who used, who weaponized airplanes. And I want to thank them.
In my opinion, they never got the recognition they deserved. It’s twenty years overdue, but I’m here to set that straight because I have seen what you’ve done. And I know what you continue to do. Some of you may have been there at the time, but those of you who also signed up after 9/11, and I think about the thousands of people who answered the call when I was much younger, a little girl, when John Kennedy said, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. I believe that’s why many of you are sitting here today as well. You felt that compelling need to do something in the aftermath of 9/11. You said, I’ll do this. I’ll sign up. I’ll be there. And many of you ended up going to places like Afghanistan. I had the opportunity as a member of Congress, to see many members of the New York National Guard in battle fatigues in a godforsaken country. It looked like the moonscape when you flew over the mountains and you landed. It was just so colorless and out there. I just saw these most incredible individuals, human being separated by thousands of miles from their families and loved ones from their normal lives, but they didn’t think twice about it. They were there because they knew their country and their state needed them.
As I said, I’ll always be in awe of that. But today I’m joined by a number of elected officials who here to honor you as well. All of us recognizing that we sleep better at night because you’re willing to show up on a 9/11 or to show up in places like Afghanistan , or sometimes they show up with me in a sandbank up on Lake Ontario and help keep back mother nature to protect families and lives. You are always there when we need you.
I’m joined today by my brand new Lieutenant Governor, former Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Brian Benjamin. I want to recognize him here today. I also want to recognize some of our elected officials from here locally. We have Senator Brad Hoylman, Senator Robert Jackson, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Assemblymember Peter Abbate is here and I’ll explain why in a minute, Senator Andrew Gounardes, Senator John Brooks, and also our fantastic Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Let’s give them a round of applause for being here today.
But while we can praise you, honor you, thank you, give you a nice proclamation, ultimately, it’s also what can we do to make sure that you are justly recognized and sometimes that means changing the laws to recognize your service. And I just signed a number of pieces of legislation and what we did first of all, in the first bill, and this is sponsored by Assemblymember Peter Abbate and Senator Andrew Gounardes and I want to thank them for their leadership on this. Expanding the criteria to define first responders who participated in the World Trade Center rescue in the first place, so there are a number of people left out, we wanted to make sure that everyone was included, and I want to thank them and let’s give them a round of applause for the legislation that they supported.
We had a second bill that increased the accessibility in applying for World Trade Center benefits. And that was introduced by again Assemblymember Peter Abbate, who’s recognized as a leader on these issues in the Assembly, but also Senator Diane Savino.
Also, bill number three I signed was expanding the definition of first responder to include communication workers. Senator John Brooks, thank you for your leadership on this, also Assemblymember Peter Abbate, who, we were talking as we were coming in. Assemblymember Abbate and I are at the memorials in Albany every year. We commemorate or honor those who gave up their lives, whether they’re law enforcement or whether they were members of the firefighter community, or members of our military. So, I want to thank him for that.
We signed these bills to try and alleviate some of the burdens that are in place that make it more difficult for people to get the benefits that they deserve. They truly do deserve these. And I’ll simply say this, I will continue to have your backs because you have ours every single day. And to ensure that you are not just recognized in word, but also in deed, if there’s other areas where we can do more to lift the burdens off of you, because of the sacrifices that you make every single day, that is something I guarantee. My administration will continue to fight for each and every one of you.
So we’ll stand by you, you stand by us. It’s the pact we have. It’s what we all agree to do when we run for office, we have a pact with our constituents. But what you do when you take your roles, and you put on this uniform is far, far, far more courageous, and I want to tell you how much we are grateful on behalf of 20 million New Yorkers who are proud to know that you are out there, on the front lines, there to defend us and our beloved country.
God bless America. God bless the State of New York. And I want to God bless the National Guard from the State of New York and keep you in his care. And I want to also recognize General Shields at this time, Raymond Shields, who is the leading, what I consider, the most courageous, the greatest, the most talented National Guard in the nation and I can say that because it’s true. I want to call him up, as I recognize him and let him know that we have your back as well. General Shields, thank you for all you do. I’ve seen you literally in battle as you’re fighting with our mother nature or man-made forces. I want to thank you for all you do, and it’s quite extraordinary.
And again, let’s give a round of applause to the men and women of the National Guard of the State of New York. You are getting the recognition that has awaited you for over 20 years. It’s happening right here, and we’re very proud to do this, and I’ll be presenting a proclamation to General Shields, which acknowledges just that. So thank you very much.