Nearly 18 years after the September 11th attacks, a granite memorial was unveiled on Rikers Island.
It's the first dedication to the more than 1,000 Department of Correction Officers who answered the call on 9/11 and the days and months following.
The department's contributions to rescue, recovery and support efforts have largely been untold and nearly forgotten—until now.
"The boldness and the bravery you all displayed has been an inspiration to me and it set me on a mission to right a wrong," said DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann.
Brann says 20 of the DOC’s members have died of World Trade Center related illness, and at least 65 are currently sick, making it all the more crucial to cement the department's role in history.
"I was a little surprised that they have not received the acknowledgment that they so deserve because they were there with us … as a uniformed service – their skills and experience were critical," said William Keegan, Port Authority Police Department Commander of the night shift.
The department says correction officers set up emergency communications, evacuated schools, ferried civilians off Manhattan, searched through debris at the World Trade Center site and at the fresh kills landfill, and probably most significant: established and managed the temporary morgue at Bellevue, processing remains of victims and fallen first responders with dignity and respect.
"They did it with not a lot on fanfare," said John Ryan, a retired PAPD Lieutenant.
But nearly two decades later, the former and current correction officers are reuniting to say, “We were there.”
"We were working down there from September through mid-January,” said Samuel Valle, a 9/11 first responder. “Twelve hour tours after the three days, we were down there 24 hours a day. That'll never leave us."
"Now everybody will know that we were there and we will be remembered [as] we should be," said Erica Vernon, another 9/11 first responder.
Interestingly, the memorial can be moved. The plan, if necessary, is to relocate it to the Department of Correction’s new academy reporting from Rikers Island.