BERNARDS TWP., NJ - On a blue-skied late summer day - much like the morning when two hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001 - officials, surviving family members, local firefighters and others from the community on Sunday gathered at the Dunham Park 9/11 memorial. They met to recall lives lost, share their memories, and to vow to "never forget" the dawn of the war on terrorism.
White roses laid to remember 25 local lives lost
Now that 15 years have passed, and some young people have vague or no recollections of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R- 7th district) said those who remember sharply have a responsibility to make sure the coming generations learn about the 9/11 terror attacks.
"Each of us knows where he or she was at the time we first learned that the United States was under attack," Lance told the gathered crowd. "It is extremely important to make sure that those in this country who do not recall the events of 9/11 personally are made aware of those events."
Another scheduled speaker, Liberty Corner Fire Chief Kenneth White, talked the unforgettable moments of learning that first one plane, and then a second, had hit the towers in Manhattan, and the realization struck that this was no accident. White said he can never forget the feeling of joy for many who were reunited with their loved ones who turned up safe, and the pain of others learning that family members and neighbors were lost, including so many in Basking Ridge.
"I will always remember images of the flag being raised at the tower and Pentagon," added White, who also was Liberty Corner chief in 2001.
At the conclusion of comments, names were read, and a white rose was laid in honor of the 25 residents or others with strong ties to the Bernards Township community.
The roses were laid by family members, friends and other residents whose lives were touched by the tragedy, and members of both the Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner fire companies.
The first rose was accepted by Katy Soulas in honor of her late husband, Timothy Patrick Soulas, "my best friend and the father of our six children."
Living within walking distance of the memorial in a lower field at Dunham Park, located off Somerville Road, Soulas later said she often visits the small bench and stones inscribed with names of those who died that day, including that of her husband.
'To us, 9/11 is personal'
"To us, 9/11 is personal," said Nick Ierubino, chief of the Basking Ridge Fire Co. and First Aid Squad. With 25 local lives lost, "We will never forget. That's a labor of love," Ierubino said.
Speakers also noted the sacrifices of firefighters, police and other first responders at the World Trade Center, in Washington DC, and those killed aboard United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa. after passengers and crew members wrested control of the aircraft from hijackers heading to Washington, D.C.
Some of younger participants in the crowd can remember 9/11, too. Josie Dudzik had just started kindergarten at Oak Street School a few days before Sept. 11, and remembers leaving to wait for her father, who was working in New York City. Her father returned home safely, but a close family friend, Stacey McGowan, did not.
Another young Basking Ridge native, Cathy Kelly, returned home on Sunday to sing the national anthem before the ceremony began.
Bernards Township Mayor Carol Bianchi, who led the event, later said that her husband, too, had been working in New York City on that day. She ended the ceremony by adding she would also not forget those who had died in terrorist attacks since 9/11, including, among other places, in Brussels, Orlando, Fla., Nice, Boston, San Bernardino, Turkey, "and so many more, including the  senseless killing of a young man in West Orange, N.J."
The ceremony began with comments by Deacon Thomas Klaas of St. James Roman Catholic Church in Basking Ridge, where a small prayer area is dedicated to the memory of local residents lost in the attack. Bianchi said that earlier on Sunday Pam Koch, a grief counselor, had been at the church to speak with survivors of that fateful day.
At least one of those attending did not live in Basking Ridge at the time of the attack. Muneeb Khan, now a township resident, said he lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the time of the terror attacks and had come on Sunday to pay his respects to those who lost their lives.
Those roses laid on Sunday were in honor of those had lived in Bernards Township, were former residents, or who had close ties to the community. The names read were:
David Otey Campbell
Stephen P. Dimino
John W. Farrell
Louis V. Fersini, Jr.
Michael Bradley Finnegan
Christopher Hugh Forsythe
Steven Gregory Genovese
Debra Fischer Gibbon
Robert John Halligan
Kevin James Hannaford
John Clinton Hartz
Anthony Infante Jr.
Thomas P. Knox
Joseph A. Mascali (Mandalas)
Matthew T. McDermott
Stacey S. McGowan (Lisa Dudzik and family)
Ludwig J. Picarro
Stephen E. Poulos
Thomas Barnes Reinig
Timothy Patrick Soulas
Craig William Staub
F. Paul Wisniewski