This past Monday, the late summer sun shone on a town as profoundly changed as the rest of Hudson County by the events of half a decade ago. Secaucus stopped to remember the terrorist attacks with speeches and solemn memories of loved ones lost.
Mayor makes remarks
After an honor guard of Secaucus police and firemen paraded the flag before an assembled crowd of over 100 people at the 9/11 memorial in front the town library on Paterson Plank Road, a lone bugler played "Taps," setting the somber tone for the day.
Mayor Dennis Elwell noted how Secaucus, along with the rest of the nation, is still dealing the after-effects of that ill-fated day.
"It's very much a similar day to that fateful morning five years ago," he said. "That day changed our lives and changed our country. Today, we reflect on what went wrong, what could we have done, what should we have done, and the health issues after the clean up."
He added, "I would say that all of that is positive, because our flag behind me says that we should have the right to do that. We should reflect, we should be critical, we should be willing to change and adapt. We are here today to acknowledge that as a community, we care."
Survivors and mourners reflect
There were members of the community present who had to adapt to the loss of a loved one.
Evelyn Pettignano's sister, Arlene Babakitis, never came home to Secaucus on Sept. 11 from her job at the World Trade Center.
Pettignano was clear in her mind as to why 9/11 should be remembered.
"People have to remember what happened on 9/11 so that the country stays strong and we can keep on going," she said. "That's why I'm here, and that's why I represent my sister, because she can not be here."
The process of representing her sister can be painful for Pettignano at the annual 9/11 memorials, but she has gotten used to it.
"It gets easier each year," she said. "Knowing that you have people supporting you, it makes you feel so much better. We're not alone. There are so many people that are hurting, and I think that we all need each other. You can't be alone."
Phyllis Colon is a Secaucus resident who worked with Arlene Babakitis at the Port Authority offices on the 64th floor in the north tower of the World Trade Center. Colon survived in large part thanks to a co-worker.
"One of the guys who I worked with whom I will never forget was Walter Bassi. He was my guardian angel. When things happened, I was in shock and I had a hard time walking. He grabbed me and pulled me out of the building. He wouldn't leave my side. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here. He risked his own life to save mine."
Linda Raisch-Lopez is Phyllis Colon's neighbor. She was a business analyst for Fiduciary Trust who was working on the 97th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center when the planes hit. She owes her survival to her gut instincts.
"We saw the flames from the impact to the first tower," she said. "I got out immediately. It was on instinct to leave the building. When you see flames 97 stories up in the air, it's not good. The south tower was hit second, but went down first. A lot of my co-workers were waiting in a lobby on the 70th floor to get the elevators down. The second plane hit exactly at that 70th floor area. I took the stairs. I lost 87 of my friends and colleagues that day. When I left the building, I made my way to the Hudson, waited for the ferry to Weehawken, and went home."
Raisch-Lopez feels it's important to continue to remember 9/11 for all of the people who didn't make it home that day.
"It's important to do this every year," she said. "We have to remember. You can't forget this. We have to stay on guard. It's a different world now than before 9/11."
The six residents of Secaucus who lost their lives on 9/11 were:
· Arlene Babakitis
· Richard Cudina
· Nancy Perez
· Kenneth Simon
· Steven Strobert
· Michael Tanner