NEWTON, NJ—The 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony is an annual event organized at the Sussex County Community College by members of the Sussex County PBA Local #138.
This year the event was held on Wednesday, September 11 at 6 p.m. at the memorial on the campus of SCCC. The weather was hot, humid, and a bit cloudy, setting the mood for the ceremony.
The event began with the playing of audio recordings from that tragic day, followed by an introduction by Patrolman Ed Sperling from the Newton Police Department. Dr. Jon Connolly, Sussex County Community College’s President welcomed all those in attendance. An invocation by Reverend Robert Griner from the Christ Episcopal Church was then read.
Connolly said a few words to those in attendance. He talked about Welles Crowther, the man in the red bandana.
“He gave a telephone call to his mom, moments after the first crash, he was in the second tower and told her, ‘mom, I’m ok’, and of course we know, that the second tower got hit too. So the second tower went down and weeks went by and the parents of Welles Crowther knew that their son was gone, but gone is different than lost and they were desperate to get the remains.”
Connolly continued the story, “As a young man, Crowther served as a volunteer firefighter, but ended up after college working in investment banking and that is what led him to be working in the trade center that day. But the desire to help in that particular way does not leave a person’s spirit ever…what he did is that he directly saved five peoples’ lives, he directly carried people down the stairs, he did go back to get more, and he did die with 10 fire fighters. There was no reason for him to be where he was when they found his remains, he was with firefighters.”
The Sussex County Sheriff’s Bureau of Law Enforcement Honor Guard along with the Police Pipes & Drums of Morris County, Bugles Across America, Newton VFW Post # 5360 and Boy Scouts of America Troop #85 presented the colors, while SSG Cynthia Bengel and SFC Fernando Cova-Gomez, from the New Jersey Army National Guard, along with Patrolman Kneidl, from the Newton Police Department, raised the American Flag.
The Boys Scouts of America Troup #85 of the Town of Newton and Andover Township, led the large group of attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by the live singing of the National Anthem by retired Newton Police officer, Arthur Sibblies and his brother Theodore Sibblies.
The Master of Ceremonies, Ptl. Sperling thanked all those in attendance and said a few words before introducing the keynote speaker for the ceremony, John D. Fila of the New York Fire Department Engine Co. 54.
“As many of you have returned year after year to remember, you show that we should not forget the atrocity. We remember the New York City Police Officers, Port Authority, New York City Fire Department and paramedics killed that day marching towards unimaginable danger. We remember the 3,000 civilians that perished in the towers, the civilians and military personnel who were killed at the Pentagon, and the brave souls on United 93 who refused the hijackers, saving countless lives, showing courage. 18 years after our nation was attacked, the events of September 11, 2001 remain embedded in our minds and in our souls and inspires each of us in different ways.”
For Ptl. Sperling, the events that occurred that day inspired him to join the United States Army and then continue on with his services as a Police Officer for the Town of Newton.
“One can only imagine what was going through the minds of those who sacrificed their lives that day; can I save just one more person, I may not make it home, will I see my family again, do my wife and kids know how much I love them. As time moves forward, what can we hold close besides the memories of the heroes, all of them, who died on that horrific day? As important as it is to never forget the fallen, there must be more. We need to do more than remember, we need to reach our hand out, offer our service, give something back. If I may, I ask the audience to bear in mind one thing, if nothing else, remembrance is clear, but as time has passed, empathy, fellowship, and service has dimmed.”
John D. Fila of the New York Fire Department Engine Co. 54 was introduced by Ptl. Sperling and said a few words of his own about what that day was for him, a day that he was supposed to be working a different shift.
“On the 18th anniversary of the attacks, my firehouse sits in the center of Times Square and we often refer to it as the center of the universe, cause something is always happening. It is crazy to think that I work in such a busy place and it is dream come true for a volunteer firefighter who started in Boonton, New Jersey. Being here, looking at this piece of steel, brings back a huge flood of memories of that day that sometimes it seems like it was yesterday.”
“On September 11, 2001, I was off-duty and had just dropped my two girls off at school and as I was driving home, I started to hear reports on the radio of a plane crashing into the side of the World Trade Center. I soon realized the severity of the situation and I immediately headed into the city to my firehouse, where all of us members that were off duty had gathered. We got our equipment and stood in front of the first bus we saw. We had 40 people on the bus and we told them to get out and then we told the bus driver that he was driving us downtown. We immediately got to work, digging and moving what we could, all the while, being confident that we wouldn’t find survivors and expecting to see our brothers from our firehouse who were working that day, working alongside of us… that day turned into night and we continued to work feverishly and as I looked around I could remember being next to brother firefighters, my colleagues from New York City, friends from New Jersey, firefighters from Connecticut, and then a few hours later, realizing the guy I was working next to was from Boston, and another guy was from Philadelphia, and another from Buffalo and by morning we were surrounded by firefighters from Detroit, Chicago and Montreal, and Ottawa, and within a few days, firefighters from Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix. What a tremendous out pouring of brotherhood. It didn’t hit me until days later that these firefighters had just gotten in their cars and driven to New York City as there was no air travel. That to me was a commitment to us and to the citizens of New York.”
“The sights and the smells at the pile were physically demanding, and mentally exhausting. We all felt a strong sense of duty to find victims, including the 15 brothers from my firehouse. I can tell you that I was not prepared for what we would experience at the firehouse when we were ordered to go back. All of the families of my 15 brothers who were missing, were now in residence at our firehouse and they wanted to know if we had found their husbands, their sons, their brothers, their fathers. There is no lower of a feeling then having a parent come up to you and ask you if you found their son, and all you have to say is ‘not yet, we’re still looking’. The months after September 11 for anyone who worked in the city, were a blur. Time had allowed me to reflect and to wonder why. Why was I alive and why was Chris Santora killed? We had switched shifts that day and not a minute goes by where I don’t wonder what wonderful things he had in store for his life, what he could have accomplished, in his career. Survivor’s guilt? Absolutely. I am forever blessed, that I was able to see my daughters grow up, and not have to put my parents through the pain and anguish of losing a child like I saw in the faces of Maureen and Al Santora…One of the questions we get from those who visit our firehouse to pay their respects to our fallen brothers is ‘now that you know what happened that day, would you be so quick to go back in those buildings if you had another emergency like that’? The answer is, of course, yes we would.”
A Helicopter Static Display was done by CW3 William Gervasoni of the NJ Army National Guard Aviation, in a black hawk helicopter, that landed on the lower soccer field and was available for those in attendance to sit in if they wanted to.
There were three wreaths laid in front of the memorial. The first was for those law enforcement personnel that were lost. It was carried by Ptl. Mahir Kaylani, a Newton Police Officer and a PBA Local #138 delegate and Detective Aldo Leone of the Sussex County Prosecutor’s office and the P.B.A Local #138 President.
The second wreath was in memory of those lost from the Fire Departments on that day. Newton Fire Department firefighter Peter Naumowicz and Deputy Chief Mike Razzano carried it. Lastly was the wreath in memory of all the EMS & ALS personnel that were lost. This was carried by Newton First Aid Squad members, EMT Lieutenant Brandon Posey and EMT April Ciccia.
“Amazing Grace” was played by the Police Pipes and Drums of Morris County, and followed up by “God Bless America” which was sung by Sussex County Community College Student Kaitlyn Gruber.
A Gun Salute was given by members of the Newton VFW Post #5360, after which Mike Scuzzese from the VFW and Bob Caggiano from Bugles Across America, played Taps
Bengel, Cova-Gomez, and Keidl, lowered the colors to end the ceremony. The flag used in the ceremony was donated by Sperling. It had been one of the flags flown in Kandahar when he was deployed there and according to Sperling, “it will fly during this ceremony, every year that Sussex County continues to remember those who were lost on September 11, 2001.”