By Andrew Wroblewski
If home is where the heart is, then a big part of Peter Magerle’s heart can be found at the Halesite Fire Department.
As a fourth-generation volunteer at the station, 18-year-old Magerle showcased his love for the place where his family has served for decades by leading the construction of a new 9/11 memorial that now proudly overlooks Halesite Marina.
“This place is like my second home, so I knew that I wanted to do something to pay it back. I knew that I had to do something significant. I just wasn’t sure what,” he said, thinking back to his sophomore and junior years at Huntington High School, when that thought still lingered.
Tying together his desire to help the station with his final step on his long-traveled path toward Eagle Scout made obvious sense.
As a Life Scout in Huntington’s Troop 12 for two years – Magerle has been in scouting since 6 – he’d already met all but one of the Boy Scout’s requirements needed for Eagle Scout. It’s a ranking achieved by just 51,820 scouts across the country in 2014, or 6 percent of those eligible.
All that was left was Magerle’s planning, developing and leading of a service project meant to benefit an entity in the community. Halesite Fire Department was the obvious site, but what would he build there?
“Do something for 9/11,” Magerle’s father, Pete, an ex-chief for Halesite and former FDNY firefighter, advised. Pete was a first responder at the scene of the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“It’s the only day of pre-school that I remember,” Magerle said.
With the basis of an idea forming, Magerle learned that former Halesite Chief Mark Blanda had actually recovered a piece of World Trade Center steel and placed it in storage. Magerle approached Halesite officials with the idea of building the memorial.
“There was always a sense that we ought to have a 9/11 memorial at the fire department. So, when Peter came forward, I think the idea resonated with everyone, and we knew that he would see it through,” said Dan McConnell, Halesite’s current chief. “We knew it would be done the right way: tasteful, respectful and on time.”
The plan was set. Magerle would build a memorial “specific to the neighborhood” and give the Halesite community “a place to think back on the loved ones they lost,” he said.
But first, the plan needed the go-ahead from the Boy Scouts.
In March 2014, Magerle met with Herb McGrail, a chair of the advancement committee of the Boy Scouts Suffolk County Council. The two went over Magerle’s plan: a circle-shaped brick patio would serve as the platform for the piece of WTC steel, which would be mounted alongside a memorial plaque. The memorial would rest between two others on the fire department’s property and overlook Halesite Marina.
McGrail liked the idea, and after a few adjustments, the plan was finalized. Nov. 15, 2014 was set as the build date.
Then Magerle was off to gather pricing estimates for supplies, which included bricks, sand and crushed concrete. County Line Mason Supplies in Huntington Station gave him an estimate of more than $500.
“I immediately started to freak out,” Magerle said.
County Line wound up giving him a big discount. It cost Magerle just $120 for the supplies. North Shore Monuments in Brookville offered a discounted price of $350 for the memorial’s bronze plaque. Come fall 2014, it was time for fundraising.
On Oct. 18, 2014, Magerle led a carwash at the firehouse that generated $700. Along with running a scrap metal drive, he had more than enough funds to create the memorial. Or so he thought.
“Surprisingly,” he said, “most of the leftover money actually went towards feeding the scouts who helped out at the carwash and on the day of the project.” Magerle spent $150 on feeding the troops.
November quickly rolled around and Magerle showed up early on construction day alongside his father and 20-year-old sister, Casey. The trio dug up the grass where the memorial would stand and hauled it off. His 23-year-old sister, Lindsay, also helped.
“That took the longest out of everything,” Magerle said.
Next, Magerle led 20 scouts, ranging in age from 12 to 18 years old, in preparing the memorial’s base.
With the steel already mounted by Halesite firefighter and mason, Jerry Conway, the group dug up the freshly revealed dirt, laid down the crushed concrete and used an electric tamper rammer to compact the layers. Sand was then spread as a base for the bricks, to be laid by the scouts.
Simple enough. Or so Magerle thought.
“As it turns out, I soon found out that scouts aren’t the best at laying bricks,” he said through laughter. “But it all only took a day, which is surprising because I thought it would take…” he paused, wide-eyed, “years.”
Magerle then began the process of preparing and mounting the memorial’s plaque. To help write the plaque, Magerle recruited his mother, Heidie, a school teacher and volunteer for the Huntington Community First Aid Squad.
Together, they created this message: “We will never forget. This World Trade Center steel is in memory of the residents of the Halesite Fire District who perished on September 11, 2001. Eagle Scout project designed by Peter C. Magerle – Troop #12.”
That plaque was mounted by Conway on a roughly 3-foot-high piece of steel. The memorial was unveiled by the fire department on Memorial Day. The department plans to officially dedicate the memorial on Sept. 11.
With the project completed after 50 hours of work, Magerle was joined by his family onstage at Huntington’s United Methodist Church for his Eagle Scout Court of honor on May 30. There, he said, the magnitude of his accomplishment became apparent.
“I was able to just listen to the people talk about what I did and I understood that what I did is able to show people who I am,” he said. “Normally, I’m not very talkative so this project showed people who I truly am, thankfully without me having to talk much.”
In discussing his achievement, the admittedly shy scout opened up.
“I feel like I did what I wanted to do – what was best for the project, what was appropriate and what was good for the community,” said Magerle, who will attend The Ohio State University this fall. “I know that the bricks might be off-balance, it might be hilly, it might not look like the greatest project in the world – but I hope that people understand what it represents is so much more than that. I hope that people are able to find that this memorial isn’t just a piece of steel, it’s a memorial for the people that gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Magerle has since received recognition from dignitaries including President Barrack Obama and Huntington council members. He’s still waiting on another, though.
“I sent the Pope a letter, but I still haven’t gotten anything from him,” he said, clearly disappointed. “But he’s coming to New York soon, so maybe he’ll stop over here and come to my house.”