By Muriel J. Smith
ATL. HIGHLANDS – “We are still a nation of promise and possibilities and I am confident this will always be true,” concluded Freeholder Lillian Burry as she opened the commemorative ceremonies recalling the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 300 persons were at Mount Mitchill at 8 a.m. Sunday morning to honor the memory of those who lost their lives and the heroes who saved so many more lives when two planes ripped into the World Trade Center and collapsed both buildings, while another plane crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth was averted from further terrorism because of quick action by heroes aboard the flight.
As in past years, Burry, welcomed the crowd and gave initial remarks before introducing Freeholder Director Tom Arnone who spoke on the tragedies as a part of history and urged all Americans to “Remember…Never Forget.”
But the crowd seated beneath the canopy on the highest point on the east coast from Southern Maine to Florida was hushed and reverent as Middletown Police Chief Craig Weber recalled his own personal history of that day, both as a father whose daughter had just be taken to her first day of school and as a police sergeant who with so many other Middletown police and fire fighters, volunteered for days after the 9/11 attack to assist in New York in numerous ways. Weber recalled the unity and generosity and assistance of local residents who aided the thousands of people from all over who were pouring into the Bayshore aboard Sea Streak to escape the horrors of lower Manhattan.
In his benediction at the end of the ceremony, the Rev. David Cotton of Jersey Shore University Medical Center also recalled his own involvement 15 years ago and his advice to a young widow that we are a nation who remember, love and grieve, but then move forward because “we are Americans.”
As a bell tolled for each, Burry gave the times of the seven most crucial minutes beginning when Flight 11 hit the North tower of the World Trade Center at 8:346 a.m. to 10:29 a.m. when the North Tower collapsed.
Music for the commemoration was by the Pipes and Drums of the Atlantic Watch, with Shelly Ziegler singing the national anthem, and America the Beautiful. The musicians and soloist joined to give their rendition of Amazing Grace. Freeholder Serena DiMasa read a letter of remembrance from Governor Chris Christie.
Burry introduced each of the elected officials who was in attendance at the event, including all the freeholders, County Administrator Teri O’Connor, Surrogate Rosemarie Peters, Sheriff Shaun Golden, who led the Pledge of Allegiance, and State Senator Joe Kyrillos, along with Atlantic Highlands Mayor Randi LeGrice and Middletown Mayor Gerald Scharfenberger. The honor guard for the event was presented by the Monmouth County Sheriff’s office.
The annual memorial is sponsored by and presented by the Monmouth County Park System staff, who also provided volunteers for program and flower distribution. The Park Service invited everyone to accept a carnation and place it on the Memorial at Mount Mitchill which is enscribed with the names of all victims of the disaster from Monmouth County.
The memorial at the County Park, which is open daily from sunrise to sunset, has three symbolic components: a timeline walkway to recollect the day’s events; a stone base carved with the names, ages and hometowns of the 147 county residents who lost their lives; and an eagle sculpture with a beam from one of the fallen towers. While Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook has always been a popular location to see New York Harbor, Tall Ships parades and other events, it was a somber crowd that visited the site 15 years ago to see the billowing smoke from the collapsed towers; for weeks after the 9/11 attack it was a popular spot for residents to sit, reflect and remember. The Memorial was begun in 2002 when the Monmouth County 9/11 Committee was formed and began plans for a tribute to the victims, heroes and events of Sept. 11 and to raise the necessary funds to construct it. Within three years, the Committee exceeded its goal of $296,000 and donations continue to come in which support the upkeep and maintenance of the memorial.