Under a cloudless blue sky, East Windsor residents came together to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks – 20 years to the day of the events in New York City, Washington, D.C. and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
From words of inspiration to words of reflection and words of remembrance – punctuated by renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” – residents and first responders alike looked back on Sept. 11.
East Windsor Chief of Police James Geary said he remembered exactly where he was and what he was doing when he learned about the terror attacks.
“I was glued to the TV in my home, with my wife and four-month-old daughter, full of confusion, worry, fear and concern over the events that were unfolding that morning,” Geary said.
Much of the fabric of life changed on that day and in the days immediately after Sept. 11 – from the empty skies to the full parking lot at the park-and-ride lot, Geary said.
“The park-and-ride lot at the Twin Rivers Mall was full of cars for days, each one representing a father, a mother, a brother, a sister or a child possibly never coming home again,” he said.
While much has changed, one aspect of life has not changed, Geary said. First responders – police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians – continue to respond and place themselves in danger so they can help others.
“We shall never forget the sacrifices made, the lives lost, the families forever altered, and our nation scarred on Sept. 11, but never beaten. We gather here today in remembrance of all of the victims of Sept. 11 and their families,” Geary said.
Like Geary, East Windsor Superintendent of Schools Mark Daniels remembers just where he was when the first airplane struck the World Trade Center. He was at the Crossroads Middle School in South Brunswick, where he was an assistant principal.
While Daniels and school district administrators focused on calming the students and their parents, he said he remembered the first responders who chose to enter the smoldering office buildings in Lower Manhattan to help the victims.
“We must take time to celebrate the tremendous lives of the 3,000 individuals whose life journeys were abruptly halted,” Daniels said. They were “amazing people” with families, friends and colleagues who continue to miss their presence and companionship, he said.
While the terrorists sought to disrupt and potentially dismantle the freedoms, values, principles and institutions that are the bedrock of American society, Daniels said, what emerged instead was a genuine feeling of community and oneness that helped Americans to remain strong and to persevere.
“We all needed to find ways to lean on one another to heal,” he said.
Mayor Janice Mironov said the community gathers every year “to remember those who perished, to comfort those who survived, to honor our many heroes and to share the memories of that day.”
One result of the Sept. 11 terror attacks was the feeling of kindness and unity that pervaded the United States and East Windsor, Mironov said. People put aside political differences and stood unified as a nation, she said. The American flag was displayed by many people in the spirit of patriotism.
Describing the terror attacks as “the memory of our lifetime,” Mironov emphasized the importance of pausing every year on Sept. 11 to reflect on the day’s events and their significance.
“The piercing events of that day are forever inscribed in our hearts and we must not forget. As inscribed on the Sept. 11 memorial hall, in the words of Virgil, the poet, ‘No day shall erase you from the memory of time,’ ” Mironov said.
Mironov also called for Sept. 11 to be a day to honor and remember the first responders who stepped up to help others and who were “so critical” in responding. She also praised East Windsor’s own first responders – firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians.
Then, Mironov and Fire Chief Josh Matorin of East Windsor Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 and Fire Chief Mario Batista of East Windsor Volunteer Fire Co. No. 2 placed a wreath at the township’s Sept. 11 memorial.
Mironov read off the names of the East Windsor residents who were killed on that fateful day: Colleen Barkow, Lorraine Bay, Debbie Bellows, Anil Bharvaney, Neil Lai and Ruth Lapin, plus Joseph Pycior Jr.
Five of the residents worked at the World Trade Center, one was a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 93, and one – Pycior – worked at the Pentagon. His mother lived in Hightstown.
Wrapping up the Sept. remembrance ceremony, attendees, led by township officials, sang “God Bless America.”