Politicians, community members, and students gathered around the flagpole in front of North Bergen High School Wednesday morning near a new plaque that honors three NBHS graduates killed in last year's terrorist attacks. The names of three other residents of North Bergen lost on Sept 11 are not on the plaque, which is dedicated to former North Bergen High School students, but they were also acknowledged at Wednesday's service.
The plaque, funded by the North Bergen Board of Education, reads, "In the memory of the North Bergen High School graduates who perished in the line of duty at the World Trade Center." The names inscribed are: Christopher Amoroso, Class of '90, Robert Cirri, Class of '80, and Sal Edward Tieri, Class of '78. The other residents lost were Mark Motroni, Lizette Mendoza, and Port Authority Police Office David LeMagne, to whom an EMS building in Union City was dedicated on Tuesday, Sept 10. (For more details on the LeMagne dedication, see www.unioncityreporter.com).
Civic pride and the solemnity of the national occasion were as in evidence at this as other local memorials. North Bergen Superintendent of Schools Peter Fischbach, who served as a master of ceremonies for the event, led the assembled crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. The North Bergen band played the National Anthem, and Yocasta Paredes performed a moving a capella rendition of "God Bless America." Said Fischbach, "We have all been deeply affected [by the events of Sept.11]. We take time today to remember three North Bergen High School graduates: Christopher Amoroso, class of '90, Robert Cirri, class of '80, and Sal Edward Tieri, class of '78. This memorial ... shall serve as a sign of our gratitude. On this sad day, let us remember [their] honor and courage."
Talk of war and remembrance
Mayor Nicholas Sacco spoke of the events on Sept 11, 2001 and how slowly everyone realized the impact of the news as each of the successive attacks occurred. "Most of us couldn't comprehend [the events of that morning]," he said. "Even as we watched the collapse of the towers, even then it was hard to comprehend that we were under attack. It's been a year now, and war is raging." But Sacco indicated the necessity of the course the country has taken in its own defense and in defense of its ideals. Said Sacco, "Freedom can't survive terror unless freedom stands tall."
Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) said, "I think of today as a time of remembrance and reaffirmation.... We remember [the victims] not just in terms of their loss but their lives." Adding that this day is "a remembrance of an attack on our very way of life," Menendez asked those attending to commit not only to keeping the memories of the victims alive but also to reaffirming the contributions of public safety workers and members of the armed forces who are protecting the nation around the world.
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9th Dist.) took a more aggressive stance. Speaking powerfully and sometimes in nearly-militant terms, Rothman said, "We come here today as one community to reflect on Sept. 11 2001. A group of evil men murdered thousands even as their co-conspirators attempted to murder thousands more."
Said Rothman, "Let us remember those who put themselves in harm's way and saved tens of thousands of lives. We will never forget the heroism of those who responded... and prevented this terrible ordeal from being even worse. ...And we will bring to justice all those who perpetrated these horrific acts."
Rothman emphasized the Congress's readiness, regardless of party, to provide security and defense for the nation. "We will never forget that all Americans depend on their government to protect them, and that is our number one priority," he said.
"Is this a perfect nation? No, we're not. Are we perfect as individuals? I've never met a perfect person. But ...there is no greater country than the United States of America."
He added, "We stand as an example of the world's greatest democracy. Our commitment to equality, tolerance, democracy, and justice for all is what threatened the terrorists. They tried to destroy us and tear us apart, [but] they only made our unity, resolve and commitment to our nation's founding principles stronger than ever."
Rothman pointed to past threats that the country has faced. "We have been here before. As a nation, we have been here before. We've faced this before and defeated it, as we will now ... We will prevail. The United States of America will prevail."
Peter Fischbach spoke again and drew parallels between the events of Sept. 11 2001, the state of the nation at this moment, and Pearl Harbor. Said Fischbach, "We will rise. We will never give up...so that democracy can be defended throughout the world."
Reflections, one year later
Speaking to the Reporter before the service began, Leah Wolf, a graduate of North Bergen High School (Class of '68), said that she did not know any of the victims of the attacks but felt she had to come to the local memorial after watching the services on television that morning. Looking at how the world has changed one year later, Wolf said, "People have become closer. My family's become closer. I feel our world has become closer."
Wolf added, "I think we live in fear now...it's scary. You think twice before you have to go out [into a crowded place] or fly. I don't know if the terrorists will attack again. I hope we're prepared for it. My prayer is that our country will always be safe."
Pete Cafasso, who retired from the North Bergen Police after 37 years of service, said, "It's a disgrace to see what really happened that day. It's unbelievable, especially in the United States. This is a free country." But he added on a brighter note, "I'm glad that I live in this country - it's the best in the world."
Rev. Howard Wilcomes of the Community Church of God in North Bergen, who gave the opening and closing prayers for the service, expressed his sorrow on the anniversary of such a tragedy. When asked before the service how he is helping members of his church cope with their feelings a year later, he said, "I preached on anger last week and will preach on forgiveness this week."
After the ceremony, Sacco said, "I don't believe that we will ever be the same after what happened last year on Sept. 11. However, with our faith in God and in our country, we know that this nation will prevail and that those who committed those acts of terror will be brought to justice."
Rep. Menendez said that on this anniversary, "I'm having flashbacks of being at the Capitol that day." He remembered the phone calls coming in, the Speaker being rushed out, the evacuation of the Capitol, and the sonic booms of the jet fighters flying overhead. He said, "I'm thinking today also of all the responses, of how the American spirit rose. [That spirit] is the greatest asset we have."
Said Rep. Rothman, "Today's a day when we mourn our losses and remember heroes that prevented more losses." He added, "We need to recommit ourselves to winning the war on terrorism and doing whatever it takes to protect our people."
Rothman agreed with many of the others that life itself has changed. "Life is different for me," he said, "as for many fellow Americans. The horrible tragedy reminded me again of the fragility of life and how precious every moment with our loved ones is. [The tragedy] reinforced my powerful sense of responsibility as a congressman to do all in my power to protect the people of this country so we can live in freedom in a country committed to justice for all."
Many of the numerous North Bergen Police in attendance would not comment on their reactions to this anniversary, but Police Lt. and Traffic Supervisor Gary Richmond said, "I am feeling very sad - it was a tragic incident that occurred a year ago today. You look at life with a different outlook and you're more aware of what's around you. You learn not to take things for granted." As for all of the police force at work on the job on this anniversary, Richmond added, "The troops are on the alert, trying to be careful and safe out here."
For those wishing to visit the memorial plaque and garden, it is located at the foot of the flagpole in front of the North Bergen High School on Kennedy Boulevard between 74th and 76th streets.