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Years later, Maine camp still provides respite for 9/11 families

Camp Kieve in Nobleboro remembers September 11, 2001.

NOBLEBORO, Maine — A steel cross on a moss-covered rock may look simple, but the story behind it speaks volumes about sorrow and healing, and the power of a quiet Maine lake. 

The cross stands on a rock altar at the lakeside outdoor chapel at Camp Kieve in Nobleboro. Camp director Henry Kennedy said it was brought there in 2003 by a man on a motorcycle, who asked to speak to the group gathered at a morning chapel service.

“And he burst into tears and couldn’t talk for a minute, this big, burly guy,” Kennedy said.

The guy was a New York City firefighter, a member of Ladder Company 3, the closest ladder fire station to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Ladder 3 lost 13 of its firefighters that day when the towers fell.

Henry Kennedy and his family have run Kieve for years as a summer camp for boys. On the day of the attacks, he decided they needed to do something to help survivors of the tragic attacks. So the following year, Kieve hosted the 9/11 Family Camp, bringing families who had lost loved ones in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and families from Ladder Company 3.

“They had been through so much grief that we all were all immediately responding to each other with love,” said Henry’s mother, Nancy Kennedy, who, with her late husband, helped make that first Family Camp happen.

Maria Zaitlin, whose husband was one of the few survivors of Ladder 3, was involved in that first camp. In a Zoom interview a few days before the 20th-anniversary date, she said the families needed what Kieve had to offer.

“It was a profound experience the first year, it was profound. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it, 20 years later.”

“Thank you, Henry,” she said, choking back the tears.

The families and firefighters camp back, each year after that, with only a few off years. Most of them were back, again, in late August, for renewal and respite before the stress of the coming 20th-anniversary observance.

Jeff Stratton was a Naval officer at the Pentagon on September 11, working for the Chief of Naval Operation when the plane hit the Pentagon, claiming 13 Navy sailors. He became involved with helping those families and that brought him to the first Family Camp and the others that followed. He said coming back to Maine this year was a help. 

“You try to remember the camp experience and it will help you through that day,” Stratton said.

At Kieve, the day may be remembered by standing near the steel cross. Henry Kennedy said the firefighter who brought it was in tears as he presented the cross.

“And he had cut this out of one of the steel beams in the rubble and made the cross just for this spot.”

The story of that simple cross now connects them all—the firefighters, the families, and the camp. And, they say, always will.

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