HAWTHORNE, NJ - Each year the borough of Hawthorne has held its annual 9/11 Memorial Service and while the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing, it did not diminish the community spirit or deter turn-out. All those who attended wore face masks and seats on the grassy field in front of the town's 9/11 Memorial were spaced apart for social distancing. Representatives of all branches of the municipal government and services were on hand, including Councilmembers Lane, Sciarra, Laiosa, and Mele.
At 6:30 p.m., Mayor Richard Goldberg hosted the ceremony, beginning with a welcome and the presentation of the colors by the Hawthorne Fire Department. Michael Stracco, Chairman of the Hawthorne Pride Alliance, then led the gathering in the Pledge of Allegiance. This was followed by a stirring rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" by Julie Minicozzi, accompanied by the Amy Hamilton-Soto Quartet of strings.
Rabbi Jonathan Woll of the Fair Lawn-based Progressive Havurah of Northern New Jersey offered the invocation. During the course of his address, he said, "We celebrate and remember the courage of humanity."
The keynote speaker was Captain John Arturi, a Hawthorne resident, former Assistant Chief and member of the Hawthorne Fire Department for 26 years. His impressive resume also boasts almost a quarter-century with the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, Correctional Services Division, and two decades with the PSCO SERT Team. Additionally, Arturi is the PSCO Hazmat Team commander. Arturi is married to Carolyn and has a son, John.
On September 11, nineteen years ago, Arturi was temporarily relieved from his job working in corrections to help with the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse. For six weeks, he worked on "the pile" as it was known, searching for survivors and remains. He counted an incident when he and other members of his team crawled through a two-foot by two-foot hole and found themselves inside a store that had been buried with much of its merchandise still intact. When remains were found, he said, operations came to a stop to pay respects to the dead.
"It is something I'll never forget," Arturi said, "the sights I've seen... TV just doesn't do it justice."
The Hawthorne 9/11 Memorial features a large section of a girder which once made up part of the World Trade Center. It was brought to Hawthorne by Downes Tree Service and the Hawthorne Police and Fire Departments when other towns were receiving pieces of the wreckage as well. Arturi said that on seeing the girder, "All the memories come back... every generation has its Pearl Harbor... this was mine." He described 9/11 as "one of the most difficult but proudest" times of his life. "We got the work done every day." Arturi then praised Hawthorne's first responders. "You have the best police department, fire department, and ambulance in the area. We all care deeply about the town and would do anything for you. I appreciate being here."
Mayor Goldberg said that the memorial is "truly the people's memorial," saying that it was entirely funded by private donations and none of it from public funds. "I think we have one of the most impressive memorials in northern New Jersey."
The mayor also recounted the death of Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to the New York Fire Department who was ministering to the injured and dying during the World Trade Center attacks. While doing so, falling debris fatally struck him down. Father Judge has received a number of posthumous honors, both domestic and international, for his service.
St. Anthony's Monsignor Raymond Kupke offered a prayer for peace, saying that on every 9/11 "we are called to be protectors."
Mayor Goldberg said, "I am incredibly proud of our first responders. You have our undying gratitude." Afterwards, the candle lighting ceremony began, where four lights were lit in front of the memorial. The first was lit by Chief McAuliffe on behalf of the Hawthorne Police Department. Next, the mayor called on the Fire Department, the Ambulance Corps, and lastly the family of Sal Zisa, who lost his life on 9/11.
Faith Noah played "Taps" on the bugle as the residents observed a moment of reflection. Julie Minicozzi then returned to the podium to sing "God Bless America," followed by a benediction from Howie Van Dyk, pastor of the Hawthorne Gospel Church. Van Dyk thanked the first responders and read from Psalm chapter 23.
Before the closing of the ceremony, Mayor Goldberg pointed out Assemblywoman Lisa Swain who had come to be a part of the service. "We're proud of the fact our Assemblywoman comes to Hawthorne," Goldberg said. Of the residents gathered, despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic, Goldberg said, "We come to support each other and you've done that. You have my thanks."
The colors were marched off by the Fire Department and the public were invited to take a white carnation and lay it on the monument.
Sal Zisa's sisters and brothers-in-law were present, representing the family and Sal's mother, Jacqueline. Mr. and Mrs. Presto, Mr. and Mrs. Martie, and Mr. and Mrs. Kelly occupied the front row during the ceremony. They thanked the borough for the service and for honoring the memory of Sal. "It was lovely," Mark Presto, Sal's brother-in-law, said.
"The family appreciates all that they do," Sal's sister Rosemary Martie said.
Borough officials said that there was some uncertainty as to how many residents would come to the memorial service given concerns about coronavirus, but they were happy to see so many chose to come and show their support.
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