LIVINGSTON, NJ — In tribute to the seven Livingston residents who lost their lives in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 as well as to the ceremony’s long-standing motto, “Livingston Cares and Never Forgets,” relatives and friends of those lost that day, local dignitaries and hundreds of residents joined together at Livingston’s 9/11 Memorial Garden on the Oval on Tuesday to commemorate the 17th anniversary.
In keeping with the ceremony’s tradition, Livingston’s war veterans, EMTs, police and auxiliary police officers and fire department members turned out in force, dressed in full regalia, to pay tribute to the residents who sacrificed their lives that day: Luke Dudek, Jeffrey Brian Gardner, Donald Thomas Jones II, Ming-Hao Liu, Joseph McDonald, John Pocher and Kenneth Albert Zelman.
Acting as Flag Honor Guard for the proceedings, the Livingston Boy Scouts stood alongside the Girl Scouts to open the hour-long proceedings, leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. Arranged around the heart of the Memorial Garden, the Livingston High School Chamber Chorus (led by Choral Director Joshua Salzman) set the tone by offering its heart-felt rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and later performed three inspirational selections, including “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “God Bless America.”
Throughout the event, remarks were offered by Mayor Ed Meinhardt, Sen. Richard Codey, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assemblyman John McKeon, Garden and Ceremony Chairperson Bunnie Ratner and Township Manager Barry Lewis, Jr. The invocation was given by Temple B’nai Abraham Rabbi Clifford Kulwin with a closing benediction by Saint Philomena Church’s Reverend Robert Fuhrman.
“September 11, 2001 will always be remembered as one of the most shocking days in American history,” said Meinhardt. “The 9/11 Living Memorial is dedicated in memory to those who lost their lives and all those who were affected by this cruel attack on our country.”
The Living Memorial was designed to provide one place for quiet contemplation, reflection and remembrance, Meinhardt said in his description of the symbolic layout.
Each side of its octagonal shape represents a Livingston life lost with the eighth side standing for all the others who died that day. The sundial cemented in the center, which Meinhardt described as “a very important part of the healing process,” signifies the passing of time.
It sits atop a steel base pulled from the rubble of the Twin Towers and contains a sealed vault with sacred soil from Ground Zero, buried beneath. Four garden plaques depict the times and places of the four attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Everybody has a 9/11 story,” said Meinhardt. “As a town, a community, and an extended family, at this moment, we remind ourselves of the story of the seven of our own who didn’t make it home.
“By remembering our own, we pay them the respect we owe as it is our sacred responsibility. We lost people dear to us and for them we mourn but, beyond our act of mourning, the greatest honor we can pay them is to never lose sight of the vision they, and we, had of the world as it could be.”
Speaking on behalf of the township, Meinhardt added that the community is committed to “making that world a reality.”
McKeon spoke highly of Livingston’s remembrance ceremony, stating he “always brags about this day and about how Livingston never forget.”
“So many years later, this has become kind of like the Pearl Harbor of our day,” said McKeon.
He also detailed the repercussions that the events of 9/11 continue to have on so many: the soldiers still fighting and dying in Afghanistan, first responders whose lifespans were shortened due to the residual effects they suffered from debris inhalation, and children born to victims they never knew or had the chance to grow up alongside of.
“It’s so important that we remember the impacts that this is having each and every day and how much you should all be commended for being here to remember,” he said.
Staten Island school teacher and long-time Livingston resident Deanna Adams gave a lyrical address, viscerally bringing to life how she addressed the attacks with her second grade students in the immediate aftermath of those September days and the difficulty she had in answering the innocent questions posed to her by the six and seven year olds in her class.
One of the most stirring ceremonial speeches was delivered by Livingston High School senior Abbe Piels, who was selected by history teacher Ernie Cuneo as this year’s “Reflections of 9/11” speaker.
For the first time in the event’s history, this speech was given by someone born in the year of the attacks, who remembers the attacks solely through her parents’ recollections and their retellings of the personal memories and losses they lived through as then-residents of Manhattan.
“It is important to recognize that all of us today, standing in memory—whether we were not yet born, babies or adults at the time—were attacked that day, too,” said Piels. “I may not be old enough to remember that tragic day, but, like all of you, I live today with memories and try to draw lessons from this unfathomable tragedy.
“Now, more than ever, we must remember the lesson of 9/11—of why were attacked. And, simply, it was because of our acceptance of others. We must always hold the pain we felt and use it to spread the ideals on which American was founded.
“Its acceptance, equality and freedom is what made America seem most threatening to those who hold a narrow belief system supported by intolerance and fear. This is why we must never forget this day: to remember what America is and what it means to be an American.”
As Vietnam War Veteran Brian Boyle, Trustee, VFW Post 2856, tolled the bell, the presentation of eight long-stemmed roses were placed upon the sundial by Livingston Girl Scouts and Daisies as each of the seven names were read aloud.
Following Tim and Gabrielle Griffin’s solemn annual rendition of “Taps,” the ceremony came to a quiet close with the singing of “God Bless America.”