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Eternal vigilance is needed to forestall another attack

I do not have to tell you that Sept. 11, 2001, was a beautiful Tuesday morning. Bright sunshine, warm temperatures, technically still summer. I can picture that morning today as if I was still there.

I was in our newsroom at an office complex in Freehold Township that Tuesday morning, working on deadline to produce several of our newspapers. I do not remember who first alerted the office that something terrible was happening in New York City.

Did someone say a plane hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan? I do not remember that detail.

However, I remember walking into our conference room and turning on the television we had in the room. I believe I saw video of flames coming from one tower and a moment later I saw a plane hit the second tower. I was transfixed by what I was watching, as were millions of other people around the United States.

Soon, newscasters began reporting that other planes in the air were not responding to attempts that were being made to contact them.

It became information overload; a plane hit the Pentagon; another one had crashed in Pennsylvania; I believe at one point I heard people talking about the possibility of scrambling military jets to shoot down civilian airliners.

Some of what took place that morning remains a blur to this day, but what remains clear to me is the grim reality that soon became apparent. The United States had sustained a deadly blow from terrorists who were then, and remain today, bent on destroying our way of life.

Thousands of our fellow Americans, as well as people who were here from other nations, were killed in a horrific multi-pronged attack, the likes of which had never before been seen on our shores. It was stunning, shocking and tragic all at once.

Tears, funerals, communities in mourning, the tremendous loss of productive people, mothers, fathers, grandparents, children; it is almost too much to think about, even today.

New Jersey lost so many wonderful people that day; perhaps in the intervening years you have seen their names on monuments or thought about those whom you knew personally. I know I have. I still grieve for their families. The people who were killed that morning were our neighbors and our friends.

And let us remember all who have died since the attack, specifically those who responded to lower Manhattan to search through the rubble of the World Trade Center and to clear the site, who later fell ill with cancer and other diseases and subsequently died. They, too, are victims of the terrorists.

I recently visited the Sept. 11 memorial at the Marlboro municipal complex. I could have chosen any one of a number of memorials in our area.

The names of the Marlboro residents who perished are carved in stone, a lasting testament to their sacrifice. The memorial was peaceful that morning, as it is most every day; a place where one can sit and reflect on what took place 20 years ago.

By the grace of God, our nation has not suffered through another day like Sept. 11, 2001. In the intervening years our elected leaders and appointed officials have found a way – with some exceptions – to do what they failed to do on Sept. 11, 2001 – keep our nation safe from those who would do it harm.

But today is not only a time for reflection, it is a time for action. I call on our elected leaders at every level of government – and specifically the federal government which has the money and the military might – to do everything in their power to protect those of us who just want to live our lives in peace.

Here is what I and other Americans are calling on the federal government to do: wake up and acknowledge the ongoing reality of terrorism; make the security of America’s borders your No. 1 priority every day, in every presidential administration; make intelligence gathering at home and in other nations that harbor terrorists a priority every day; and finally, seek out and eliminate the people who are plotting against us. Do not give them another chance to strike.

In simple sports terms, play offense, not defense. Our friends and neighbors died 20 years ago this week. Go look at their names on any monument and do not let their deaths be in vain.

Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Newspaper Media Group. He may be reached at news@njexaminer.com

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