LIVINGSTON, NJ – For the 15th consecutive year, family members of seven Livingston residents who gave their lives for our country during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center were joined by community representatives of every age and stripe to honor the lives that the residents of Livingston will forever remember.
The ceremony, held on the Oval in front of the 9/11 Memorial Garden, began promptly at 6:30 p.m., where an audience of hundreds—including strong representation from the township’s war veterans, EMTs, police and firemen—gathered to pay tribute and bear witness to Livingston’s seven victims: Luke A. Dudek, Jeffrey Brian Gardner, Donald Thomas Jones II, Ming-Hao Liu, Joseph P. McDonald, John M. Pocher and Kenneth Albert Zelman.
During the hour-long ceremony, remarks steeped in hope and resiliency were offered by Mayor Al Anthony, former New Jersey Governor Richard Codey, Assemblyman John McKeon, Saint Philomena’s Reverend Monsignor Robert Fuhrman, Temple Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Geoffrey Spector, Livingston High School (LHS) junior Ben Asher, Township Manager Michele Meade and family members of some of the seven residents lost that day.
The ceremony commenced with members of the Livingston Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts who acted as Flag Honor Guard for the proceedings, providing a patriotic backdrop in front of which the LHS Vocal Chamber Chorus, conducted by Choral Director Joshua Salzman, performed a special rendition of the National Anthem.
In his welcoming remarks, Mayor Anthony shared personal remembrances from the day America was forever changed.
“I hope this remembrance reignites the togetherness we all felt in the months after 9/11,” he said. “Here in Livingston, although we are 30,000 people strong, we are still a family, a close-knit community who volunteer and who help each other when a family loses loved ones, especially before their time. We gather and share in the pain you are feeling and honor them.”
Anthony, explaining the significance of the Memorial Garden’s layout, said it is constructed to evoke an atmosphere of quiet contemplation, reflection and remembrance, the octagonal shape represents the seven lost Livingston lives with the eighth side signifying all the others who lost their lives that day.
In the center of the garden stands a sundial perched atop a steel base pulled from the rubble of the Twin Towers. Beneath the stand is a sealed vault containing soil from Ground Zero. Four plaques which border the garden on all sides acknowledge the times and places of the four attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001.
For the first time at a Memorial Garden Ceremony, a LHS student was offered the opportunity to give reflections from the perspective of someone who had no actual first-hand memory of 9/11/01.
Born in 1999, Ben Asher was a baby at the time of the tragic events. Introduced by his high school history teacher, Ernie Cuneo, Asher inspirationally noted that “we must be watchful and caring eyes for each other.”
“We should concern ourselves with the well-being of those around us and open our minds so that we will not be consumed by fear,” he said. “Americans have shown the trait of united support time and time again, throughout our history. 9/11 proved that Americans are capable of making our finest hours out of some of our darkest.”
Township Manager Michele Meade read from a statement about the attacks, issued by President Obama this past weekend, before reading a poem she recites each year entitled “We Remember Them.”
To the tolling of the bell, rung proudly by Vietnam War Veteran Brian Boyle, Trustee, VFW Post 2856, the presentation of eight long-stemmed, white roses were placed upon the sundial by Livingston Girl Scouts and Daisies as each of the seven names were read.
Following brief speeches from Governor Codey and Assemblyman McKeon, family members of those lost were invited to address the crowd. The brothers of Kenneth Zelman and Donald Jones II made fervent pleas to those assembled to investigate and educate themselves on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the September 11th attacks.
They also urged attendees to intensify pressure on President Obama to support the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act bill, which the House of Representatives unanimously passed on Friday. The controversial bill affords families of 9/11 victims the right to sue Saudi Arabia should further investigation prove that Saudi government officials helped to back the attacks.
Following a rendition of Taps performed by father and daughter trumpeters Tim and Gabrielle Griffin, the ceremony came to a peaceful close with the singing of God Bless America.