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Sept. 11 families use tiny flags to remember loved ones

Nearly 16 years after hijackers flew two passenger planes into the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, the sadness and pain haven't subsided for Leigh Macadlo or Cynthia Brest.

Both lost brothers that day, innocent victims of the worst terrorist attack ever to occur on U.S. soil. Both remember what their loved ones were doing that morning.

And both were among two dozen family members and friends who gathered Sunday to plant nearly 3,000 American flags on the expansive grounds of the Clement Mansion on Delaware Avenue, in memory of all those who were lost Sept. 11, 2001.

"That's what we do. We do that every year," said Macadlo, whose twin brother Leonard M. Castrianno died in the collapse of the North Tower. "Everybody has some type of a connection, whether they lost somebody that day or they didn't."

This is the 15th year that the group of survivors, the Western New York Families of Sept. 11, has assembled at the headquarters of the Buffalo chapter of the American Red Cross in the mansion at 786 Delaware. For the first anniversary, they met at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Starting at 10 a.m., the group strategically places the flags on short wooden poles into the landscaped grounds in front of the historic mansion, creating a patriotic sea of red, white and blue for all to see.

"Every year we put together a remembrance of them, so everybody has a place to go to remember the 2,996 lives lost that day," said Macadlo, 46, of Cheektowaga.

It's a somber scene, one of reflection and memory, but also an opportunity for companionship and shared grief. "There's a certain togetherness that we have. We share something that other people don't," said Brest, 69, whose younger brother Sean Rooney worked in the South Tower.

Macadlo praised the American Red Cross chapter for being supportive of the group. The organization is also allowing the survivors group to install a placard on the lawn, highlighting "Western New York Connection" with photos of 26 victims. It will be erected this week.

"The Red Cross is proud to continue to support these amazing families, and to pay tribute to all who lost their lives on that tragic day," said Rosie Taravella, Western and Central New York regional CEO.

Macadlo's brother was a 30-year-old junior bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond trading firm that was hit hardest by the attacks because so many of its employees died. Castrianno had worked for the Wall Street firm for about five years, and was preparing to start that day in a new position at a different level, but was training his replacement at the time the planes hit. He was on the 105th floor.

Brest's brother, Rooney, worked for Aon Corp., the insurance brokerage firm. He was also on the 105th floor, but in the other tower. When the planes hit, he was in a meeting. He and others tried unsuccessfully to get to the roof, but the door was locked, said Brest, who lived in Buffalo at the time, but now lives in Angola.

Brest talked to him that morning, and he was on the phone with his wife, Beverly Eckert, when the tower collapsed, "so we knew immediately where he was and that there was not a chance that he had escaped," she said.

He was 50.

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