Just as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks interrupted school and work days nearly 10 years ago, marking a grave moment in history, the news late Sunday night of the killing of the Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, by Navy Seals in Pakistan marked another historic moment that many Americans will not soon forget.
On the South Fork, where many people had personal ties to the tragedies of Sept. 11, the death of Bin Laden brought up strong memories.
“I don’t know how many funerals I went to,” said Christopher Coleman of Montauk, who was working on the New York Stock Exchange just next door to the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks and recalls them vividly.
Bin Laden’s death was “a really good day for us, for the United States, and the families that were affected,” he said yesterday. “The story to me is almost unreal, that that’s where they found him,” he said, referring to the compound near Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, where Bin Laden is believed to have been hiding since as long ago as 2005. “I didn’t think he was going to go down like that. I thought it would be in a much different way, some bunker somewhere or something.”
The success of the operation and the effectiveness of the United States military were not lost on veterans sipping their beers at the American Legion post in Amagansett on Tuesday.
Sid Bye of East Hampton, a Navy veteran who served on the U.S.S. America in the Vietnam War, was grateful, if less than elated. “Everybody wanted to see him dead, wanted revenge. I don’t like to take joy in anybody’s death, but here, I do. I’m happy, and proud of the military,” he said.
Carl Hettiger, an Army veteran, was impressed that President Obama was the one who carried out the operation, having initially viewed him as soft on defense issues.
“Some use them [U.S. troops] more than others. I was surprised Obama did. He ran on pulling the troops out [of Iraq], and wanted to downsize the military. I’m glad he listened to some military people here,” Mr. Hettiger said.
For Mr. Coleman, Bin Laden’s death offers a measure of resolution.
“I truly believe he is dead. There is some feeling of closure for me, for some of the people, friends and family, that passed. I had friends at the top floor of the towers,” Mr. Coleman said. “Thankully the surf was unbelievable that day, and that saved two guys I know for sure, who blew off work.”
East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., whose daughter was in the South Tower at the time of the attacks but was among those fortunate enough to escape with her life, concurred that though Bin Laden’s death “doesn’t bring back any of the souls lost on that horrific day, in some measure, I hope this gives a degree of relief and satisfaction to those families that lost loved ones. There’s a sense of momentary relief and moving on.”
Doris Gronlund, who lost her daughter Linda Gronlund on United Flight 93 when it crashed in Shanksville, Pa., said her reaction to Bin Laden’s death itself was rather muted but that she was touched by the community’s reaction to his demise.
“It was a magnificent operation,” she said, referring to the work of the Navy Seals. “But the thing that was wonderful, a young man who also suffered losing his son, put up a flag [this week] next to the Linda Gronlund Memorial sign on Route 114. That was so moving for me, the fact that people care so much. I’m very grateful.”