MONTVILLE, NJ – Residents gathered at Freedom Plaza at the Montville Township Community Park on Sept. 11, to sing patriotic songs and cry a little, but most of all to remember the fallen and to honor those first responders who helped out that day and continue to help today.
On this 18th anniversary of that terrible day when airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, a plane crashed at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA, 15 members of the Montville Township First Aid Squad responded to Liberty State Park where they were given assignments to help what many thought would be the victims of the events at the World Trade Center. No one knew then that there would be no one to help. First aiders Carol DaCosta and Julie Goodman Greenfield, along with Michelle Caggiano Crotty, responded to what came to be known as Ground Zero. DaCosta and Greenfield spoke at the township’s 9/11 commemoration on Wednesday.
“You sign up to help your community and to help your neighbors, [but] we take care of each other and depend on each other like a family,” DaCosta said. “So when the towers fell, we were not only there to help strangers, we were there to try to help our fellow first responder family.”
Greenfield spoke of travelling to Ground Zero by boat, and being issued paper masks that were completely insufficient to block any of the toxic fumes and debris.
“We were told there was a chance we would not be returning as additional attacks were possible – especially attacks to the next wave of responders who were going in to help,” DaCosta said. “We had no idea what to expect. All we could see was the large plume of smoke coming from the area and we knew we had to get there.”
“Nothing in our training had prepared us for this type of situation,” Greenfield recalled. “We stepped onto the dock and walked right into ash, debris, and items still falling from the sky. Fire trucks, ambulances, police cars and vehicles were crushed to barely two feet high, covered in gray ash. Piles and piles of smoking debris, beams, and concrete stood in front of us.”
The patients never came, so the trio treated their fellow responders, offering phones – if they worked – eye washes, elementary first aid, and a shoulder to cry on.
“At this time, they were bringing in heavy construction vehicles to try to work the pile, and plows to try to clear a path to the area,” DaCosta said. “The larger vehicles were being used to try to find anyone that was buried and possibly still alive. At times, we would hear gunfire, and everyone would run. What we didn’t know was that one of the towers stored ammunition and the heat caused it to go off. We had little to no communications with the outside world, and we thought the jets flying overhead were also there to drop bombs on us and attack.”
“After spending some time there, we were assigned to Battery Park,” Greenfield said. “We walked through a quiet gray city. There were still papers falling from the sky, and ash everywhere. There were no birds, cars honking, no typical city sounds. Our leaders advised us to stay together, as many times they received calls of additional planes coming in, secondary bombs being set off, and dirty bombs that were also reported to be on the planes with anthrax or ricin.”
Since the pair had trouble making their way back to New Jersey, they went to a Coast Guard station, where they saw the news and came to understand what was going on.
“We then realized the magnitude of what we had just been a part of,” DaCosta said. “That was the first time we heard the term ‘Ground Zero’ and realized that was where we had just come from.”
DaCosta recalled answering a young, eager fire fighter who asked what it was like at Ground Zero.
“I told him, ‘imagine the worst possible thing you can ever imagine, and then multiply it by a million times,’” she said.
“There are still people affected by 9/11 – either physically or mentally,” Greenfield said. “We pray that no one ever has to see such devastation, but also to never have to experience something like this again. To this day, neither of us has returned to Liberty State Park, Battery Park or the Memorial.”
Former township engineer Anthony Barile and former department of public works director Tom Mazzaccaro spoke of their trip to Ground Zero to get some pieces of Trade Center beams to bring back to Montville.
Barile said it was very quiet there, and he felt as though he were on sacred ground. “Are we really in New York City?” he recalled asking himself.
“The workmen cutting the beams into pieces had a sadness in their eyes,” he said.
VFW Post Commander Ken Hanzl read the names of the six who perished on that day:
- Gayle R. Green was 51 and was a vice president with Marsh & McLennan. She worked on the 100th floor of the north tower.
- Thomas V. Linehan was 39 and a senior vice president with Marsh & McLennan. Dennis Taormina was his brother-in-law. The pair were on the 98th floor of the north tower. Linehan lived with his wife and two children in Montville. He and his wife met on a blind date arranged by Taormina.
- James Martello was 41. He graduated from Kinnelon High School and lived in Montville for 15 years before moving to Rumson a month before 9/11. He was a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald. He was married and had two sons.
- James Romito was 51 and was the chief of Port Authority Police. He lived in Montville and ran towards the towers on that day after calling his fiancée and telling her he had to save people.
- Paul Skrzypek was 37 and started working for Cantor Fitzgerald six weeks before 9/11. He played lacrosse at Montville Township High School, graduating in 1982, and was living in New York City.
Reverend Tom Henion of the Montville Reformed Church gave the first prayer, saying, “We remember images human eyes were never meant to see. […] We remember all those who suffered and died and we grieve them still. […] This date of Sept. 11 carries a heavy burden.”
Mayor Richard Conklin also spoke, stating, “We’re here this morning for our annual memorial service, but I think it is imperative that we all recognize that this is a war still being fought. We need to be vigilant, and show our support for our president and country with whatever means necessary, to ensure we achieve a final victory over this evil.”
Montville Township High School students Jeffrey Gallup (senior) sang the National Anthem and America the Beautiful, and Jackson Kroll (senior) played the snare drum for the Color Guard. Nick Visco led the assembly in singing “God Bless America.”
Pine Brook volunteer fire fighter Carl Patterson led the Pledge of Allegiance. Rabbi Mark Finkel of the Pine Brook Jewish Center offered the benediction. Rising pop star Alus offered a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Patrolman Thomas French, first aider Sal Khan, and Pine Brook Assistant Chief Don Welter placed wreaths representing the three branches of first responders at the memorial. Police Explorers Alex Benno and Joey Cirkus placed flags for those who perished.
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