SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Today marks the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. For the last four years, the Spotswood School District has honored the lives of those lost on September 11 with a special ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial in front of Spotswood High School. Spotswood High School senior Spotswood Fire Department Cadet Robert Wehrle has organized and led the last four September 11th ceremonies. Wehrle, who was not born yet at the time of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan, grew up learning of the sadness of the day from his dad who is a longtime member of the Spotswood Fire Department along with other members who have memories of the tragic day.
The unspeakable events on September 11, 2001 claimed 2,753 lives at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. One hundred eighty-four more people died at the Pentagon while 40 additional lives were lost in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The FDNY lost 343 members of their units in the collapse of the World Trade Centers and the NYPD lost 71. Nineteen years later, the death toll continues to climb as many first responders suffer from the effects of the toxic air at Ground Zero.
Normally, sixth grade students from the Memorial Middle School would be present at the remembrance ceremony at Spotswood's 9/11 Memorial. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic and remote learning for Spotswood School District students, the memorial stood as a quiet reminder on Friday of the lives lost. Wehrle did not want this year's anniversary to pass without doing something in honor of Patriot Day.
With the approval of Spotswood School District Superintendent Graham Peabody, Memorial Principal Brian Kitchin, Spotswood High School Principal Amy Jablonski and Spotswood High School Vice-Principal Michael Masterserio, Wehrle came up with another way to mark the 19th anniversary of September 11. Wehrle interviewed retired NYPD Officer Robert Farley. Farley is a Spotswood native and was one of the first responders arriving at Ground Zero between the time the first and second airplanes struck the World Trade Center Towers.
Jim OKeefe of AJ Studios in Cranbury assisted with the filming and editing of the video interview as did Wehrle's grandfather. The video is a little over 15 minutes long and was shared with Memorial Middle School and Spotswood High School students today.
Like Wehrle, the sixth through 12th grade students watching the video were not alive during 9/11. At the conclusion of the interview, the teen described the day as the "Pearl Harbor of our parents' generation." He encouraged students viewing the video to ask their parents today where they were on September 11, 2001 and what they can remember when they first heard the news about the terrorist attacks in NYC.
During the interview, Wehrle's questions lead Farley from the events of the tragic day through to the search for survivors and the aftermath when the dust from the collapse settled. Farley recalls how that beautiful, bright September morning was "just a normal day at work" until the first plane hit. He talks about how no one really understood the magnitude of what was to come when the first plane struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. as well as his emotions and fears as the horrific chain of events unfolded around him.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, communities around New Jersey are holding remembrance ceremonies on Friday including East Brunswick and Milltown. In Manhattan this morning, bells still rang marking the times the planes struck the World Trade Center Towers, but unlike in years past the names of the victims were not read aloud live by family members. A recording of past name reading was used instead in order to keep crowds down due to COVID concerns. The Tribute in Light originally canceled because of coronavirus safety concerns will glow after all. The beams of light will begin shining this evening at dusk. Milltown's candlelight remembrance ceremony begins at 7 p.m tonight at the American Legion Pavilion on JFK Drive.