Friday, September 11, 2009

Sept. 11 terror attacks is remembered in New Jersey, New York

NEW YORK -- It was hazy, wet and windy today, a far cry from the clear, bright and sunny day eight years ago. But they came anyway.With familiar rituals of grief and a new purpose to honor those who rushed into danger to help, the nation today marked the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania killed almost 3,000 people, brought down a symbol of American economic prowess and tore a hole in the area's identity. Nearly a quarter of those who died were New Jersey residents.
At Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, relatives and friends of the victims of the World Trade Center attack visited a partially built, street-level Sept. 11 memorial plaza that had not been there a year ago.
The memorial, to be partially complete by the 10th anniversary in 2011, will include two square pools evoking the towers' footprints, with victims' names surrounding them and waterfalls cascading down the sides. Moments of silence were observed at 8:46 a.m., 9:03 a.m. -- the precise times that jetliners struck the north and south towers, and again at , 9:59 a.m. and 10:29 a.m., the times each tower fell.

"Eight years ago, countless people played a part in history by doing something to help another person," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said as he opened the service under a driving rain. "Each act was a link in a continuous chain that kept us from falling into cynicism and despair."

Bloomberg reminded the crowd that this year, Sept. 11 was declared a national day of service and remembrance in honor of those volunteers and encouraged listeners to remember the victims by performing service for those left behind.

"While there is pain in remembering the loss, there is sweetness in remembering their lives," he said.

Over the drone of flute and cello music, the reading of victims' names by family members and volunteers was punctuated by poetry read by local, state and national politicians.

Vice President Joe Biden read a selection by poet Mary Oliver.

"Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine," he said. "Meanwhile, the world goes on."

Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters -- some barely old enough to remember their parents -- made their way through the alphabet of 9/11 victims. Many spoke in monotones until reaching the names of their own loved ones, choking back tears and sending messages of love to lost relatives.

Bergen County resident Laura Weinberg was making her first trip to the New York ceremony after losing her husband, Richard Aronow, in the attacks.

"I had trouble coming to the city in September," Weinberg said. "I was able to come back here because the flashbacks are more under control."

But she said the pain of her loss is much more enduring than a single day.

Some family members still don't feel comfortable heading to New York or attending any memorial.

Elizabeth Mattson, whose husband, Robert, died at the World Trade Center, tries to make Sept. 11 a positive day each year. She attends Mass in the morning in her hometown of Rockaway Township, then spends the day with her family, doing things her husband enjoyed.

"We'll go out and hit golf balls or other stuff he liked to do,'' Mattson said. "He was a happy, upbeat guy. So we try to keep everything upbeat, try to keep a positive attitude. But, I'll admit, it's not always so easy to deal with this day."

Mattson did not attend today's ceremony. She has made it to Ground Zero a few times, but never on the anniversary.

"That would be too difficult. I don't know how people do it. Instead, we just try to keep it simple," said Mattson, whose adult children, Jean and James, usually commemorate the day with her.

George and Dotty McLaughlin of Matawan, whose son, George Jr., died, also use the anniversary to visit the places he loved. Sometimes that means trips to New York City, other years it's spending time at their house in Ocean City.

The younger McLaughin, 36, who lived in Hoboken, was the couple's only son and the middle of their five children.

"We gain strength from our son because we know he's watching over us," Dotty McLaughlin said today at the 9/11 memorial at the Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook in Atlantic Highlands.

The chilly rain and strong winds caused some New Jersey communities to postpone or even cancel their services, but most moved forward.

In West Orange, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo dedicated a $30,000 addition to the 9/11 memorial at the Eagle Rock Reservation. The addition pays tribute to the flight crews who perished in the attacks.

The original memorial honored police officers and firefighters who died that day.

But township resident Deborah Calimano, a flight attendant said flight crews -- the true first-responders -- should also be included.

Today, DiVincenzo unveiled a 3-foot-tall granite pedestal with a bronze pilot's cap resting on top. Engraved on the pedestal are the names of the 33 pilots and flight attendants who lost their lives.

In Somerville, more than 40 people gathered in front of the 9/11 memorial at the Somerset County Courthouse as the names of the 39 county residents killed in the attacks were read by Freeholder Director Rick Fontana.

Trish Straine MacGregor, 40, of Oceanport, made her first visit to the Mount Mitchill memorial today to mourn her husband, Jimmy Straine, 36, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee killed at the World Trade Center.

She said she spent many of the previous anniversaries in the company of a support group while watching television coverage of the ceremony in New York, keeping her two children out of school.

Now remarried with two more children, she said she still meets with members of her support group on the anniversary, but doesn't spend as many hours with them.

Her oldest sons, Finn, 10, and Charlie, 8, who was born six days before his father died, now go to school on the anniversary.

"Life moves forward," she said. "You can still find happiness. You hold onto your memories and your love, but Jimmy would never want me to be in a black hole, sad."