LIVINGSTON, NJ — Hundreds of Livingston residents gathered at the township’s 9-11 Living Memorial Garden on Wednesday to remember the seven Livingston residents who perished 18 years ago in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers (WTC).
Noting that many towns have stopped hosting 9-11 ceremonies, Mayor Al Anthony expressed pride in the Livingston community for continuing to host and support the annual event.
“So many people were lost, so many unfinished lives,” said Anthony. “Our existence changed in a matter of moments.”
Anthony explained that his wife would have been present for the attacks if she had not resigned from her job a month prior. He also noted that he joined Trial Lawyers Care, a pro bono organization that helped victims’ families and survivors after 9-11, and that he is still currently working on legal cases for first responders who are suffering from illnesses contracted from breathing the toxic air at Ground Zero.
The mayor said that residents of Livingston always support each other and volunteer to help others and that “remembering that tragic day brings us together.”
Describing the symbolism of the township’s 9-11 Living Memorial Garden, which offers “quiet contemplation and remembrance,” Anthony explained that the octagonal shape represents the following seven victims from Livingston.
According to Anthony, the sundial is made from steel pieces from the Twin Towers, and sacred soil from Ground Zero is under the sundial in a vault. Additionally, the times and places of the attacks on the towers, the Pentagon and when Flight 93 descended into a field in Shanksville, Pa. are memorialized in plaques around the sundial. The eighth side of the octagon represents the thousands of other Americans who died in the attacks.
As his students were not alive for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Livingston High School (LHS) teacher Ernie Cuneo described what it’s like to teach about the events. Each year, he asks the teens to write essays about the terror attacks, and has one share the essay during the township ceremony.
Reading from his evocative essay, senior Kevin Oloomi shared his perspective on the volunteer armada that rescued people on the Hudson as well as the impromptu carpools; great deeds of courage; the thousands of people walking home; valor over fear; President George W. Bush speaking to the nation from Ground Zero; Mayor Rudy Giuliani appearing on Saturday Night Live to tell people to continue living their lives as usual to demonstrate that the terrorists did not stop us from our daily existence; the thousands of Americans enlisting in the military; people supporting each other; and the plans to build the Freedom Tower to symbolize recovery.
Oloomi also spoke of his generation “growing up in a state of heightened security and constant warfare.”
“We are all the legacy of that infamous day,” said Oloomi. “We rose to the occasion and helped each other.”
Also speaking at the event were Livingston Township Manager Barry Lewis, former Gov. Richard Codey, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assemblyman John McKeon, local survivor Joel Katz and Barry Zelman, the brother of a Livingston victim.
As Codey took the podium, he spoke of the many tragedies that have occurred since 9-11, such as the shootings in Newtown, Conn., Parkland, Fla., El Paso, Tex. and more.
“We have to stop the hate,” said Codey, noting that the Internet is contributing to many young individuals having less interaction with others. “Young people need to talk to outliers.”
Jasey echoed Codey, stating the “people benefit from togetherness.”
“‘Each one reach one and each one teach one,’” she said. “There’s a ripple effect when we help one another. Get involved even in a small way. Register to vote and recommit to the community.”
McKeon, telling the audience that his brother worked near the trade centers and survived, spoke about the country’s unity that day and in the wake of the attacks.
“Everyone was together as Americans,” he said. “We celebrate the heroism and remember those who perished.”
Lewis, who attended the ceremony for the second time since being hired, praised Livingston for its impressive commemoration. He also spoke of the United States “coming together to show the best we can be” after that day.
“Everyone had a new respect for police and firefighters after 9-11 and Americans were unified,” he said. “We need to get back to political civility.”
Katz recounted his own survival story, explaining that he was working at Sandler O’Neill on the 104th floor of the WTC when he heard a loud noise. He looked out a window, where he saw clothing drifting in the air, then heard someone say that a jet had flown into the first tower. As the smell of jet fuel began to fill the office, Katz knew he had to leave.
“I heard a loud boom and the sound reverberated off the buildings,” said Katz, describing the scene of debris, smoldering metal and concrete he encountered once outside. “Then I saw the second plane hit. It crashed somewhat near me. I was frozen in shock with many others.”
Sandler and O’Neill lost 66 people on Sept. 11, 2001, and Katz knew almost all of them.
“I speak today so we don’t forget those we lost,” said Katz, adding that he thinks of 9-11 almost every day and has only been able to cope with that trauma because of counseling and family support.
Zelman spoke about his brother, Kenneth, a Livingston native who died in the World Trade Center when he was 36 years old and had two young children.
Mayor Al Anthony thanked many veterans, police and firefighters for their service and their presence at the memorial. He also expressed gratitude toward Bunny Ratner, Garden and Ceremony Chairperson, and Liliana Branquinho, Program Supervisor of Senior & Adult Enrichment & Special Events for Senior Youth & Leisure Services, for planning and executing the evening’s program.
Other dignitaries in attendance at Wednesday’s ceremony included Deputy Township Manager Russell Jones; council members Michael Vieira, Rudy Fernandez, Shawn Klein and Ed Meinhardt; Livingston Board of Education members Buddy August and Ronnie Connor; and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Block.
Rabbi David Vaisberg of Temple B’nai Abraham gave the Benediction, and performances included two songs from members of the LHS chorus, a rendition of “Taps” from resident Timothy Griffin and his daughter, Gabrielle Griffin.
Boy Scouts were also in attendance to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
As Ratner read the list of Livingston victims, eight Girl Scouts and Daisies placed white roses on the sundial for each of them and all those who perished in the attacks. Vietnam War Veteran Brian Boyle from VFW Post 2856 rang a bell after each name.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A portion of this article that was initially attributed to the incorrect speaker has since been removed.