HACKENSACK, N.J. — Nineteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the sounds of “Amazing Grace” played gently after 11 a.m. outside CareOne at Wellington in Hackensack where the rehabilitation and nursing center staged a makeshift outdoor ceremony honoring the some 3,000 lives that perished on that fateful day.
Members of the city fire and police department looked on from lining the front of the facility on Union Street as Mayor John Labrosse and CareOne at Wellington Administrator Charlotte Sodora addressed the crowd; Father Brian Llafler of St. Anthony Padua Church prayed for the victims and their families, and for the safety of the city’s current firefighters and police force.
“Our country may have dropped to our knees in pain, but quickly stood tall and strong and built this great nation,” said Sodora. “May God bless the over 3,000 victims, and may they look over the heroes that support us. May these same angels bless the families of those heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”
After a moment of silence was observed, Mayor Labrosse reflected on his vivid recollection of the day that changed the world.
“Every one of us remembers exactly where we were and what we were doing when the attack on Sept. 11 occurred,” said Labrosse. “It’s engraved on our psyche like some kind of tattoo on our memory. For many of us old enough to remember that day, ceremonies like today remind us just how significant 9/11 is to us, as a nation.”
“There are also many of us who do not need to be reminded of the horrific events of that day,” he continued. “There are the ones who stand ever vigilant knowing that as long as there are those out there whose goal in life is to eliminate us, and all we stand for, we can never forget.”
Not only on the anniversary of 9/11 does Labrosse recall to mind 9/11, but during his morning coffee this time of year on a sunny, clear-skied day and is irked by the sound of a low-flying jet headed towards Teterboro Airport.
“In an instant, my mind goes back to the day of the attacks,” he told the crowd. “There are so many reminders that trigger our memory that take us back to that day. I know I am not alone in this and those of us who never forget will continue to remain vigilant.”
Labrosse read off the names of five Hackensack residents who perished that day: Denise Grant, Shashikiran, Srinivase Ranganath, Anil Shivhari Umarkar and Courtney Wainsworth Walcott. He also honored the recent loss of longtime city Firefighter Richard Kubler, who — nine months after he was diagnosed with Stage 7 liver cancer that doctors say he developed from assisting in the rescue efforts following 9/11 — died in July in his home in Maine.
Labrosse expressed his ever-present sadness and anger about the evil that transpired that day and his apprehension about the future safety of his offspring.
“I miss the patriotism that followed 9/11,” he said. “We all stood together as one people, one nation under God ready to do whatever was necessary to bring these evildoers to justice. What happened? What happened to us?”
Two years after 9/11, Father Llafler recalled being asked to preach at an evangelistic mission at a parish one hour east of London at St. Luke’s. While serving as a guest speaker to the South End High School for boys, he was asked by a student what it was like living in the New York Metropolitan Area when the Twin Towers collapsed. The question, he said, brought to mind Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s response to a reporter’s question, “What happened?” His response paralleled the philosophy of Mister Rogers’ mother who told him to “look for the helpers” when he sees scary things on the news.
“Over 3,000 people died very tragically through the actions of 19 very bad people, the terrorists,” he recalled New York’s former mayor saying. “But on that same day, over 300 very good people rushed into the Twin Towers, the firemen, the policemen and the EMTs, to rescue people that they didn’t even know and lost their lives doing that.”
In addition to remembering the brave men and women first responders who died on 9/11 and years later following their exposure to the toxic chemicals from the debris at Ground Zero, Sodora awarded Hackensack Fire Chief Thomas Freeman and Captain Nicole Foley with a plaque as an emblem of gratitude for their “selfless actions and courage and compassion that does not go unnoticed.”
“May God bless you today and every day,” she said. “You are our heroes.”