Lawrence Township remembers 9/11 with ceremony

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Under bright blue skies reminiscent of Sept. 11, 2001, more than a dozen Lawrence Township residents gathered to remember the victims of the terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11 – 18 years later, to the day.

Michael Yeh, the guest speaker at Lawrence Township’s memorial service, remembers the day quite well. As a member of the New Jersey Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue team, he was dispatched to New York City within hours of the 9/11 terror attack.

“It is difficult to believe that it has been 18 years since the attacks on our country. It has been a generation (ago),” Yeh said as he stood in the township’s First Responders 9/11 Memorial Park on Pilla Avenue.

On a beautiful September morning exactly like the day of the memorial ceremony, the retired Lawrence Township police officer said “extremists” attacked targets in the United States and attempted to bring the country to its knees.

While the attacks shook the nation, American citizens rallied and showed the resilience that defines the country, Yeh said. They helped those in need – whether it was helping victims who were injured or in shock, or donating blood or money to help.

New York City Fire Department firefighters were changing shifts when the airliners slammed into the World Trade Center, and both the in-coming shift and the shift that was supposed to be released responded to the alarm.

Those firefighters knew “there was a big fight to fight. Sadly, as we know, many of them died,” Yeh said.

First responders and civilians alike did whatever they could to assist in the aftermath – including men and women dressed in business attire who tried to clear the dust and debris off the emergency vehicles, he said.

“I remember watching FDNY members burrowing down into the debris while the smoke was rising. They were trying to find crushed firetrucks 30 feet below the twisted, burning steel to reach what they hoped were their brothers seeking cover under their trucks during the collapses,” Yeh said.

Similar life-and-death struggles were being played out at the Pentagon and on an airliner flying over Pennsylvania, he said. Passengers came up with a plan to take back the jet or die trying. The airliner crashed in a field.

And while there is no doubt that Sept. 11, 2001 brought out the worst in people, it also brought out the best in people, Yeh said. People from all over the United States – first responders as well as civilians – rushed to New York City to help.

People came out of their homes to talk to neighbors and reached out to families that could not find their loved ones, Yeh said. He recalled that people brought food and supplies to the rescuers.

“I ask you all to remember the 400 emergency responders that made the ultimate sacrifice that day. Remember the 3,000 civilians who were murdered that day,” Yeh said.

“Remember that we pulled together as a country. Remember those days when we were more civil, more patient and more caring for our neighbors,” Yeh said.

Yeh encouraged the attendees to tell loved ones that they are loved, and to be patient rather to say or do something “uncivil.”

Wrapping up his remarks, Yeh also encouraged attendees to remember the emergency first responders and those who serve in the military, because they are the ones who are ready to face those who want to bring harm to the United States.

Then, Lawrence Township police officer Todd Caruso sang “Amazing Grace.”

Lawrence Township’s first responders – Slackwood Fire Co. volunteer firefighter Ken Kandrac, Lawrence Township Emergency Medical Service Chief Christina Vincent and police Lt. Joseph Caloiaro – placed a wreath at the memorial.

Bagpiper Doug Conner played “Going Home.”

And in her closing remarks, Marie Tagliaferri, who is a trustee of the Lawrence Township First Aid Squad, called on attendees to remember the victims of 9/11 – those who were killed and the rescuers who are suffering from illnesses related to their efforts to help.

“For our first responders, may we always remember, honor and give thanks to them. They work so hard to protect us. Know that every time you answer a call, it is an answer to someone’s prayer,” Tagliaferri said.