Sixteen years have passed since terrorists brought our country to a standstill by flying jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and crashing another jet into a field in Pennsylvania, killing thousands of Americans and wounding countless others. It was a Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, a day of perfect blue skies, unimpeded sunlight, and seasonal temperatures when terror struck our shores in a way that we had never experienced before. Every September 11 since then, the Town of Secaucus honors the memory of the six residents who perished in the Twin Towers and also the thousands of others who died. The memorial ceremony always takes place at the 9/11 Memorial on the Secaucus Public Library grounds where the names of the six residents are forever etched in stone. They are: Arlene Babakitis, Richard Cudina, Nancy Perez, Kenneth Simon, Steven Strobert, and Michael Tanner. The service begins at 8:30 in the morning to correspond almost exactly to when the first hijacked jet slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Monday, September 11, 2017, was no different as town officials, fire and police personnel, members of the clergy, high school students, family members of the victims, and individuals who survived the WTC attack were joined by residents to pay their respects to the deceased and to remember them always. Mayor Michael Gonnelli addressed the gathering, followed by New Jersey Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a town resident. Secaucus High School senior Kerry Mitchell recited the inscription on the memorial plaque and intoned the names of the fallen. High school teacher Maleesa Lamatina held the gathering spellbound as she magnificently sang both the National Anthem and Amazing Grace. Students Emily Gasser, Madeline Gasser and Chase Melendez perfectly and eloquently harmonized “America The Beautiful.” Koketso (“Coco”) Sekhu played the mournful “Taps” on her trumpet, and a bagpiper from Shree Swaminarayan Temple added appropriate music.
Fr. Vic Kennedy, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, gave the invocation, while the Rev. Nancy Ruckert, pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, provided the benediction. “Hate and violence are not what this country stands for,” remarked Pastor Ruckert, invoking Psalm 46. “We live in a different world since 2001,” offered Speaker Prieto. He said America must stay vigilant, but not live in fear. Prieto recognized the armed forces and first responders who protect us and come to our aid. Mayor Gonnelli urged the gathering to not only remember the victims of 9/11, but also to help the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean.
In addition to the mayor, Councilmen Jim Clancy, Bill McKeever and Rob Costantino, and former councilman and mayor Richie Steffens attended the ceremony. School board president Jack McStowe and school trustees Joan Cali and Lou Giele also attended. Police Chief Kevin Flaherty and Captains Dennis Miller and Joseph Baccola stood at attention, front and center, throughout the ceremony. The Secaucus Fire Department was well-represented by Deputy Chief Carl Leppin, Battalion Chief Joe Schoendorf, and former chiefs Bryan Schoch, Bill Sallick, George Schoenrock, and Frank Walters, and a host of other volunteer firefighters. WTC survivor Linda Raisch Lopez and her husband, Alex, were also in the audience. (Linda’s harrowing account of her escape from the South Tower on 9/11 has been published in the Secaucus Home News.)
Another year has passed, and we will do it all over again next year, on September 11, 2018. We can only hope that our turbulent world of manmade conflicts and violence, and nature’s reckoning, will have calmed down in the meantime. We don’t have much hope, but miracles sometimes do happen.