The West Milford Messenger asked people for their thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the World Trade Towers and America.
The first question was: Where were you? The second was: Where are we now?
There were common threads in the responses:
How blue the cloudless sky was.
How the day began with mundane activities like dropping a truck off for repairs or making lunch and then getting the kids off to school.
How the smoke rising from the City could be seen from Route 17 North and the Garden State Parkway.
And how out of this tragedy came unity. At least for a while.
One essayist called Sept. 11 a date of demarcation: The world before that day and the world since then.
The conclusions, of course, are personal.
‘We are the United States of America. Let’s act united.’
September 11, 2001, a very sad day in American history.
When the attack happened, my husband called me at work and told me to come home immediately. As I was driving on Route 17 North in Ramsey, there were cars stopped and people were standing on the highway staring at the smoke coming from the Trade Center.
It was such an eerie feeling. I never knew you could see Manhattan from the highway on Route 17.
After the attacks, America came together as one. We helped and were kind to one another. We comforted our friends, relatives and neighbors.
America was the way I always known it to be, united and patriotic.
Unfortunately, there were those that chose to single out a culture and thought everyone in that culture was bad.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are good and bad in every group, society, culture. It saddens me to think that some have not evolved from that way of thinking, across the spectrum of society.
We need to come together like we did on that horrific day.
We are the United States of America. Let’s act united.
‘It becomes even more important for all of us to pass on what we know to our children’
Although two decades have passed since the 9/11 attack, it is not difficult to remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was attending Montclair State University preparing to become a high school history teacher.
While attending MSU, I had a part time job at Statistical Research, Inc. That morning, a co-worker announced to the room: “A plane just hit the Twin Towers!”
The room is normally noisy due to the high volume of phone calls but it was the second plane, at 9:03 am, which made the room fall silent.
After the Pentagon was attacked, I was on the phone with a family member stating the Pentagon was on fire. I remember announcing this information to my co-workers and manager. This prompted our manager to release the staff to go home.
The drive home was not an easy one. At the time I used the Garden State Parkway which provided the horrific image of the smoke coming from NYC. Upon making it home, my entire family was glued to the television screen for the next several hours.
As a history student and eventual teacher, this event immediately prompted an opportunity to look back at other horrific events in our nation’s history, e.g., the attack on Pearl Harbor; the JFK Assassination.
Not having lived during those events provided me with the appropriate historical lens, especially the aftermath.
Ironically enough, we are now in the position where our students were not alive in 2001 to have a first hand account/narrative of 9/11.
It becomes even more important for all of us to pass on what we know to our children/students just as our parents/grandparents passed on other events that affected the country as a whole.
Principal, Upper Greenwood Lake School
‘Twenty years later I still pause to pray’
It was a sunny September morning. I was on a temporary assignment at ShopRite’s corporate office in the Village of Florida, uploading sales data.
“A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”
Those of us in the front office cubicle heard someone gasp while tuning the radio.
My first thought was to call my husband Rocco, a N.Y.C fireman.
“Another plane!” she yelled.
Ears glued to the radio, I kept calling Rocco.
At the 10 a.m. coffee-break, I walked downstairs. I imagined people at the WTC running down stairwells. I prayed.
Outside, I took a deep breath before I dialed my husband again. He answered!
He reminded me that he had swapped tours with Lt. Peter Freund. We didn’t know that Pete and four firemen from Engine 55 would be killed.
Rocco went back to what became Ground Zero.
Opening the entrance door, chills ran down my spine. I paused to pray. This time for all the rescue workers going into the W.T.C.
It was difficult to process all the emotions while keyboarding numbers. At home, I saw the same images the world did. It was worse than I imagined.
We know the effects tragedies bring. We witnessed how hate destroys. Also, how love overcomes. People of all backgrounds, races and countries came together. Twenty years later I still pause to pray that we never forget our humanity.
‘We ALL were there’
Every year around mid-August it happens. The weather changes, ever so slightly at first.
I begin to feel restless and a bit on edge, then realize it will be 9/11 again. For the 20th time.
People often ask me: “Were you there?”
I always give the same response: “We ALL were there.”
Truth be told I wasn’t there when the Towers fell - but I was supposed to be.
My best friend, Lt. Peter Freund, and I had agreed to swap tours, with him working Monday night 9/10 into Tuesday 9/11.
I got there a few hours later by hitching a ride through the Holland Tunnel with a PAPD Officer. We flew through with lights and sirens then emerged into the “Nuclear Winter” that was lower Manhattan.
Along with Pete, we lost four other brothers from our Company- Engine 55 in Little Italy. They were Firefighters Faustino Apostol, Stephen Russell, Bobby Lane and Chris Mozzillo.
These in addition to about 3,000 other innocent victims - each life so precious.
I am here today, grateful to enjoy my family, friends and life - because of Pete’s sacrifice.
I will “Never Forget” that Peter Freund was the living embodiment of the Gospel verse: “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.”
“In Pace Amica Mea”
Lt. Rocco Battista
Engine 55 retired
‘Before and after’
Twenty years is a blink in time but the world is a different place since September 11, 2001. We measure time “before and after,” and nothing testifies to that more than the difference between pre-9/11 and post-9/11.
For me, it was a day of both great joy and unfathomable sadness.
My first grandchild was born about 6 a.m. that morning and I was thrilled.
Three hours later, along with the rest of the world, I saw tragedy unfold of unbelievable proportions. Everything had changed forever. I don’t think the world we live in will ever be the same.
That is not all bad; while tragedy and horror can happen in a single moment, the dawn of the 21st century and the darkness of 9/11 are reminders that there are brave and kind people who come to the forefront in moments of our lives, whether it be due to terrorism, floods, pandemics, poverty, or all the other events that can leave a black hole in our minds and hearts.