9-11, We Remember
The Marlboro 9/11 MemorialClick thumbnail to view full-size
We don't need to be reminded
The gray sky chokes with emotion as the air thickens with somber. Two giant American flags hoisted up high by three fire trucks are quietly fluttering in the early autumn morning chill. Down below, dozens of first-response vehicles – fire trucks, ambulances and police squad cars, are all silently flashing their emergency lights. And a SWAT officer in full combat gear guarding the intersection adds to the solemn atmosphere.
It is September 11, 2011. Ten years after the most tragic terrorist attacks on this soil, people gather at the township recreation and community center to re-dedicate the 9-11 memorial site and pay tribute to the innocent lives lost in those most senseless violent acts. Military color guards with flags and weapons surround the memorial site. Firefighters, first aid squad members, and police officers in full uniform stand at attention. There are politicians in crisp suits, grandmas holding hands with little toddlers munching on Goldfish, as well as spiky-haired teenagers wearing sagging shorts. Surviving family members of the victims are asked to sit front and center.
Marlboro, this central Jersey town of 40,000, took its toll on 9-11: fourteen of our fellow residents perished at the original World Trade Center.
There could have been sixteen.
My wife’s older brother and younger sister were both working at the World Trade Center at the time. Big brother normally went in his office at around 7:30 AM, and sis would follow an hour later. But the week before that fateful day, her car window stopped working; and her dad spent two days trying to fix it but to no avail. So the siblings decided to share the ride and carpool to work together for the time being, at the young sister’s normal time. They hit heavy traffic that was much worse than usual. Amid bickering back and forth about whether to stay the course or take an alternate route, they missed the news on the radio. It would be five to nine when they finally reached their parking garage in Jersey City and looked up across the Hudson River. Heavy smoke was already billowing out of One World Trade.
Thinking it might have been just some cafeteria mishap and worrying about being late for work, sis still wanted to rush to catch the Path train, which would take them right under the towers. Fortunately, the older and perhaps wiser big brother thought better of it and dragged her back into the car and started back home. And the rest is history.
Through the years, relaxing in the safe haven of our own homes, we can still get a few chuckles whenever they recount the story. But we also feel the chills: What could’ve happened if the car window was fine? Or big brother was able to convince sis to go in early with him? A broken car window might have changed a large and close-knit family’s life in an unimaginable way. Count ourselves blessed because death was once so close.
But nearly three thousand others were not so lucky that day. They were mostly ordinary people just like your neighbors and friends: Businessmen, office clerks, or restaurant cooks who were there simply to make a living, or tourists who had just come from out of town to admire these magnificent buildings. And don’t forget the most tragic and heroic of all – the first responders, especially those firefighters who rushed up the burning towers while urging others to flee.
Cold rain quietly drizzles down onto the gathering. One by one, family members of the victims recount the life stories of their lost loved ones. There are few dry eyes in the silent crowd.
Amidst military bugle calls, police gun-salutes and the “America the Beautiful” by the Marlboro High School chorus, the black shroud draped over the new memorial centerpiece is slowly lifted, unveiling a 12-foot long steel “I” beam. It had been salvaged from the wreckage at Ground Zero. Through the efforts of Town Councilman Jeff Cantor, a U.S. Army reserve Lt. Colonel who had served in Afghanistan, this steel beam was transported by truck from New York to Marlboro under police escort.
This 12-footer is vertically mounted on a scaled-down model of the twin towers, which stands on a marble base in the shape of a pentagon. The names of the fourteen Marlboro residents who died in the 9-11 attacks, as well as the time of impact of each plane and the total number of lives lost, are chiseled in on its polished sides. The structure is standing tall and safeguarded by the American Flag, the State Flag of New Jersey and the 9-11 Memorial Flag, ensuring that this community will remember our loss for many years to come.
“What we are is a community of neighbors with passion, who care about each other, and it really shows on a day like today,” declares Mayor Jon Hornik as the crowd grows to six hundred strong.
“Know that you have an entire community that stands with you today,” Councilman Cantor reminds friends and family members of the fourteen 9-11 victims as they walk up to the newly erected monument and lovingly place a rose and an American Flag on the base for each of their lost loved ones.
My tween children, who were barely toddlers ten years ago, can understand so much more now. That burly fellow with a thick beard, who cannot hold back his tears, will never forget the pain.
Just outside the memorial, the fire trucks’ air horns roar intermittently throughout the ceremony, marking the exact moments of the horrific attacks and devastation. They are there to remind everyone of this tragedy.
But no, we don’t need to be reminded.
9-11, we remember.