BELMAR, NJ — Residents of Belmar’s senior housing building have been holding a 9/11 memorial service since nearly 3,000 people perished in the terror attacks 18 years ago. “And it still hurts.”

With those simple, yet poignant words, event organizer Eugene Murray yesterday continued the solemn tradition on the grounds of the Eighth Avenue senior residence facility. Some 50 people attended the outdoor ceremony, including building residents, borough officials, invited guests and a group of St. Rose students.

They gathered around a small area of the front lawn, decorated for fall with cornstalks interspersed for the occasion with small American flags. Flying briskly at half-mast was an American flag and a Pentagon flag from that tragic day. Two pieces of artwork created from recycled mirrors by building supervisor Michael Carr — one of the World Trade Center twin towers and the other of an eagle, both in red, white and blue — glistened in the sunlight.

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“People tried to take our freedom away,” said Belmar Mayor Mark Walsifer. “Every time I salute the flag, I think of that day because our flag stands for freedom and democracy.”

Special guest Jason Martin, a 1993 graduate of St. Rose High School and a retired Navy SEAL, told the group that after 9/11, the focus of military training was “to get the guys, the terrorists who brought all that destruction and sorrow to our country.”

He also addressed the St. Rose students in attendance —many of whom were not even born when the attacks occurred. “That doesn’t mean you can’t remember, and it also means you don’t have to forget.”

The Rev. Natalie Stewart of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association called the day a time of remembrance of a very tragic event. “We’re reminded of the loss, the grief, the men and women who gave their very lives for this country,” she said. “We also remember a time when community gathered and rallied together so that we could rebuild and create a place of safety, security and reverence."

In recognizing the surviving families and those who served in so many capacities in the aftermath of 9/11, she emphasized that hope is in community. “Yes, we mourn, we grieve and we remember, and it is a tragic time. But even then, we continue to have hope and that hope sustains us in what continues to be one of the greatest places on this earth — the United States of America — and the people who are blessed to call this home.”

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