16 years later, Essex still remembers

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County residents gathered at Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange early on Monday, Sept. 11, to commemorate the lives lost 16 years ago in the terror attacks of 2001. While overlooking the New York City skyline, the Essex Remembers ceremony honored the nearly 3,000 people who were killed, 57 of whom were from Essex County.

“We remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost, 700 New Jerseyans, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends,” U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said in his speech at the event. “We remember the men and women so cruelly taken from this world because they meant the world to their families and children and communities.”

Menendez was involved with a great deal of post-9/11 legislation. He was on the committee that created the Department of Homeland Security and sponsored the Zadroga Act, which gave benefits to Ground Zero workers who died from health problems likely caused by toxic exposure during the recovery process.

“We knew that the world would never be the same,” he said. “So we join together in our solemn pledge: one, to never forget; and two … to do everything possible to never let it happen again. And finally, I’ll never forget the resiliency of the human spirit that we saw on that fateful day — first responders, police, fire, emergency management, rushing into a burning building to save lives as others were running away from it. In the midst of seeing man’s inhumanity to man, we also saw man’s great humanity for their fellow Americans.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker echoed his fellow senator in his remarks.

“We will never forget. With every fiber of our being, with every strength of our spirit, we will never forget those who lost who lost their lives. We will never forget the bravery of all the first responders,” Booker said to those assembled at the ceremony. “We gather here today with an affirmation, with a defiance, with an indomitable will that we will never forget. Today as we gather in this memorial we must not forget our ancestors, we must not forget our friends, we do not forget our family who have fallen. And we gather here today to ensure that their lives were not lost in vain.”

Maria DeRosa’s sister, Antionette Dugar, worked for First Union Bank on the 47th floor of the North Tower at the World Trade Center. DeRosa spoke at the ceremony and described her sister as a peaceful and happy person.

“She was the peacemaker of the family,” she said at the ceremony. “You couldn’t pick an argument with her if you wanted to. If you said anything, she would say, ‘That’s OK, if that’s the way you feel.’ She was all about peace.”

Elisa Charters worked for the Port Authority on the 21st floor at the World Trade Center, and lost 84 of her coworkers in the attacks. She recited each name, including the boss who hired her, and spoke about the importance of compassion in difficult times.

“Upon reflection, I’ve noticed that each and every one of us is capable of empathy. We all experienced it during 9/11,” Charters said. “Over the last two weeks with the surge of Harvey and Irma, we’ve been reminded that empathy is deep within each one of us.”

Charters also discussed a book she’d recently read called “Option B,” which is about resilience and coping with loss. She said that many people were forced into “Option B” after the 9/11 attacks, Boston bombing and the Orlando nightclub shooting.

“As we seek peace on earth or within ourselves, may we be reminded that there is always an option B available to us, whether it is cast upon us or we choose to self-empower and achieve it,” she said.

Vocalist Arlette performed an original song titled “One September Morning,” written in honor of the people who lost their lives on 9/11. Following her performance, the names of the 57 Essex County residents who were lost in the attacks were read by Essex County Chief of Staff Philip Alagia, Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne, Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake, United Airlines flight attendant Deborah Calimano, state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz and Susan Rossinow, who lost her husband Norman in the 9/11 attacks.

Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura remembered the courage of those who served back in 2001, and described training new police officers and telling them to step up when the worst day comes. Fontoura said that they never actually imagine that day happening.

“Sixteen years ago, that day did come,” he said. “It brought us together from the federal agents to the Port Authority to the state police. It was my resolve that we go out and work on behalf of all our neighbors. It strengthened our resolve to make sure that that day will never come again. I promise you that we will continue to do that.”

New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne Jr. also spoke at the ceremony, saying that he felt an obligation in Congress to sit on the Homeland Security Committee because there were no members of the New Jersey delegation already on it. Payne is also a ranking member on the congressional subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications.

“First responders are my responsibility,” Payne said. “They have to be safe, have the equipment and have the training in order to keep us safe during manmade or natural disasters. So that has become my mission — understanding what they do in keeping us safe. This is a day of remembrance, but also a day of recognition.”

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. gave the last speech of the ceremony.

“This is the 16th year, but to me if feels like this just happened,” he said. “But I was concerned about today, and the reason I was concerned is that there’s so much that’s going on. There are so many things that are happening throughout the world and people have a tendency to forget.”

DiVincenzo spoke about the memorial at Eagle Rock Reservation, and how resiliency helped to build the structure in only one year in 2002, and the importance of coming together.

“Anytime there’s tragedy anywhere — Texas, Florida — we will come together as one. This memorial is a beautiful memorial, and we’re going to continue to make it as pristine looking as it does today. It’s been this way for the last 16 years. Let’s come together as one and comfort the family members, but also comfort each other.”

West Orange Township Council President Joe Krakoviak and his wife, Clare Silvestri, were also present at the ceremony, which they have been attending for the last several years.

“It’s just a moving ceremony,” he said. “It’s a great way to remember what happened and to never forget.”

Silvestri grew up in West Orange near the reservation. “I grew up a few blocks away, I used to come up and play as a kid here,” she said. “And what the county executive has done here is just beautiful.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic