On the site of the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad headquarters, a new Sept. 11 memorial stands tall as it honors the lives lost and the survivors of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
As Princeton commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks the local memorial was unveiled at the headquarters building on 2 Mount Lucas Road during a ceremony hosted by the Princeton 9/11 Memorial Committee on Sept. 11.
“A lot happens in 20 years. People move on and they forget. The problem is we can’t forget and we have to remember this,” Committee Chair William Shields said. “That one day in September touched so many lives and changed the whole world.”
The centerpiece of the memorial is a steel beam from the World Trade Center site that is more than 8 feet in length. Alongside the steal beam is a large plaque that tells the history of the day and provides information on the four hijacked flights – American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93.
Also adjacent to the steel beam is another plaque that is a compass, which shows where the location of the memorial is in relation to three plane crash sites the World Trade Center in New York, Shanksville in Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. The plaque provides the miles from the memorial location to each of the three sites.
“This memorial gives people the opportunity to come down and reflect on the day,” Shields said. “Everything was structured in such a way, so if someone comes down to read the plaque 20 or 100 years from now the memorial is going to tell you the day’s story. It is not something that is fabricated. This is the facts. The facts that we obtained.”
After a year of planning for the 2021 ceremony, the committee wants to have the Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at the memorial annually.
With an American flag hanging from the ladder of a Princeton Fire Department fire engine, the unveiling of the memorial was part of the Princeton 9/11 Memorial Committee’s honoring of the day for the civilians and first responders who died during the attacks, including nine Princeton residents, and civilians and first responders who were survivors, as well as first responders dealing with the health effects from the toxic dust at Ground Zero during responding and recovery efforts.
“I hope this memorial is extremely meaningful to the community. The memorial reflects tragedy, our resolve to overcome that tragedy, and I think gives people a place to come and remember and reflect,” Mayor Mark Freda said. “You can’t forget Sept. 11. The day impacted so many and we need to remember.”
The steel beam centerpiece of the recently unveiled Sept. 11 memorial arrived in Princeton in 2012. The work to obtain the piece of the steel beam was led by former Princeton Fire Department Chief Roy James, who went through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“History is huge. If we forget about history we are destined to repeat ourselves,” he said. “In order for us not to go through a horrific day like that again I think it is very important for every child and every individual, whether you lived it or didn’t live it, or you remember it or don’t remember it, to keep the day’s history in the back of your head.”
The effort to obtain the steel beam for a local memorial took two years.
“Once I started the process to find someone who could help me get someone else to find someone else it almost caused a few arrests because we entered places we technically were not suppose to go to, but they never told us not to go to,” he said. “Once we got the phone call, we had about 2-and-a-half weeks to get ourselves prepared, and get things situated, and go pick up the beam.”
A motorcade would transport the beam from New York to Princeton. In Princeton the steel beam draped by an American flag would temporarily have a memorial site at the firehouse on Chestnut Street.
Through donations and donated contracting services provided by local companies the beam would eventually be on display at a permanent memorial on the new headquarters site of Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad, after Freda, who is also the president of PFARS, suggested the location in 2019.
“Since the memorial is right on (Route) 206, I hope this will be a spotlight to a lot of people to come, remember, educate and think of Sept. 11 and what happened that day,” James said. “I hope we shall never forget and never allow this to happen to us again.”
To James, the memorial serves as a way to educate people about what occurred on Sept. 11.
“I think as time goes by a lot of people have forgotten and we have seen that in a lot of the rides that we do,” he said. “Where people were very supportive, people are now getting hostile in regards to us creating traffic, and we seem to have lost a lot of what we gained from that horrific day.”
At the ceremony on Sept. 11, Michael Yeh, who serves as Princeton’s director of Emergency Services and as task force leader of New Jersey Task Force 1, an urban search and rescue team, described what the day was like for him as he was a Lawrence police officer at the time and a volunteer firefighter and EMT.
“I think this is a great memorial to the lives lost that day: the more than 2,000 lives from more than 90 nations, who just went to work that day,” he said. “It is extremely important to remember the lives, the first responders who selflessly went to Ground Zero to save more people, and also the people suffering ill effects from responding and doing the recovery efforts at Sept. 11.”
As a member of New Jersey Task Force 1, Yeh and other members of the task force spent 14 days at the site working in two shifts day and night.
“Twenty years ago is a generation away now. A lot of time has past and a lot of people either don’t remember or were not alive when the attacks occurred,” Yeh said. “So responding to Ground Zero, it was truly the first event where I was truly worried for our own safety. But getting there and being a responder and putting our time in I was honored to be a part of this elite team.”
He added that every one of his police, fire and EMS friends were reaching out to his wife to find out how they could help at Ground Zero.
“First responders wanted to get to Ground Zero and help out,” Yeh said.
The names of the nine Princeton residents who died in the attacks were read as a bell rung after each name at the Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony and dedication. Members of the FDNY, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, NYPD and people who have passed from or are currently suffering from Sept. 11-related illnesses were also honored during the service.
To concluded the remembrance service, “Amazing Grace” was played from a bagpipe and followed by a performance of “Taps.”