Under bright and sunny blue skies, Lawrence Township residents came together to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks – 20 years to the day of the events.
Mayor James Kownacki welcomed the attendees to the annual 9/11 ceremony at the Lawrence Township 9/11 Memorial Park on Pilla Avenue, across the street from the Lawrence Township EMS headquarters.
“Welcome to the 20th anniversary of what happened (in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania). Everybody here can tell you what they were doing that day,” Kownacki said.
“It’s an honor to see so many people out here for this service,” Kownacki said, as he called on the Lawrence Township Police Department honor guard to post the colors and for Patrolman Todd Caruso to sing the national anthem.
Four wreaths were placed at the memorial by Lawrence Township first responders.
In the invocation, Director of Emergency Management Jack Oakley said that more than 70 countries lost citizens to the attacks – friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors and heroes. Their memories should not be forgotten and their legacies should endure, he said.
“We pray for the memories of those who lost their lives to rescue, help and save others, such as firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians and the civilians who offered a hand,” Oakley said. “May their bravery be remembered, and not just a footnote in history books.”
For the survivors, Oakley said, “our hearts go out to those who lost someone dear from the events of the that day. Those who were left behind were robbed of such important and valuable people,” he said.
They do not grieve alone, as the world grieves with them, he said.
Keynote speaker Paul Tweedly, who is a retired Trenton Fire Department captain, reminded the attendees that nearly 3,000 people died that day – including firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and others who sought to help.
After the memorial museum to the 9/11 terror attacks opened in New York City, Tweedly said he volunteered as a docent. He spoke to the visitors, some of whom were family members of those who died and those who survived.
Tweedly said he spoke “a lot” with the first responders. They spoke about personal stories of valor, honor and sacrifice on that day, but “we mostly hugged, cried and laughed at some of the stories that were shared with me about their loved ones or co-workers,” he said.
“The surviving first responders don’t consider themselves heroes. They were just doing their job. As one firefighter told me, ‘All the heroes died that day. The rest were just doing our job,’ ” Tweedly said.
Some family members of the first responders who died shared with him how their loved ones spent the last hour of their life, Tweedly said. They had made several trips in the north and south towers of the World Trade Center to guide others to safety before the towers collapsed.
Equities trader and volunteer firefighter Welles Crowther, who worked in the south tower, led many survivors down one of the few functional staircases. He made several trips to help others, and he was in the tower when it collapsed.
“His last hour was spent helping others,” Tweedly said.
New York and New Jersey Port Authority police officer Chris Amoroso, in his last hour of life, made five trips into one of the towers – the last one, after he had rescued a pregnant woman and brought her to safety, Tweedly said.
Paddy Brown, a captain in the Fire Department of New York, refused an order to evacuate the north tower because he had too many burnt people with him, Tweedly said.
“That was the last radio transmission from Capt. Brown. His last hour was spent helping victims and refusing to leave their side,” he said.
Many people died that day, Tweedly said, but many others survived because the first responders spent the last hours of their own lives to help them.
“I am grateful for the heroes still carrying out that same fight, protecting our nation and securing our future,” Tweedly said.
Then, volunteer firefighter and retired Lawrence Township police officer Ed Budzinski tolled the bell on the front bumper of the Lawrence Road Fire Company fire engine 12 times, marking the end of the ceremony.