Hours before the ceremony honoring those who perished on Sept. 11, 2001 was slated to start, the rains came – not a heavy downpour, but steady, moistening every surface, drenching the few hardy souls who came out early to pay their respects before the 100-foot high memorial located at Harbor View Park.
Among the first to arrive was Frank Perrucci, a member of the “September 11…Bayonne Remembers” Committee, which each year seeks to keep alive the memory of those who died not just on 9/11, but also those who perished in the first attack in 1994.
Perrucci was one of the early admirers of Zorbas Tsereteli’s “To Struggle Against World Terrorism” monument, the 100-foot high structure that the people of Russia originally proposed to locate in Jersey City. Perrucci quickly to proposed Bayonne take it when the Jersey City council declined.
A veteran of the Korean War, Perrucci has been forced by failing knees to suspend his usual duties as part of the color guard for local parades. Yet, in the steady rain, he came for this, arriving almost first in order to oversee the arrangement of chairs, flags and the platform for dignitaries for the ceremony. But he looked concerned, staring across the former Military Ocean Terminal toward the winding road that led to the end of the long peninsula to where the monument stood.
“We came together as neighborhoods and we can together as a city and we came together as a region and stood tall.” – Mayor Mark Smith
Would anyone come in this rain? Could he expect them to get soaked on this gray day even for such a noble cause?
Like many people who live and work in Hudson County, Perrucci has distinct memories of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center Towers, and had people close to him who lost relatives in the disaster.
“I was in an office in the County Court House building when I first heard there was a problem,” he recalled during an earlier interview.
The Brennan Court House in Jersey City, along with surrounding county administration buildings, had an unobstructed view of the Twin Towers.
“I saw another plane approaching,” he said. “Then I saw the ball of flames.”
This memory plays an important part of his appreciating the new park location at the end of the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor, because the park will provide an even better view of the space where the Twin Towers once stood.
“It has an awesome view,” he said. “And I see it as a place where people can go, sit down and meditate, where they can look across the bay and look at where the event occurred.”
Yet as he stood there an hour before the ceremony was scheduled to start, eight years after the attack, Perrucci could not see Manhattan, it being so obscured by low clouds. But he could see the rain rolling off the foot of the marble monument base, looking like tears coming off the carved names of the victims.
This included every name from the most available list at the time of construction – including the 13 victims from Bayonne. But the committee also constructed its own memorial facing the Russian gift that includes a marker and 13 four-foot high pillars with the name of each local victim on it.
These, too, seemed to cry as the rain dripped off the dark surface, at times reflecting Perrucci’s concerned face as the looked west towards the road.
Some people did dribble in: several Boy Scouts and their leaders; some tourists pausing to take pictures; even some individuals huddled under their umbrellas, standing quietly before the monument in awe and reflection.
“We’re not going to be able to hold the full ceremony,” Perrucci finally concluded. “We won’t get many, I don’t think.”
Then out of the mist, the headlights of cars showed, a line stretching into the infinity of the fog. Cars and school buses bringing veterans, firefighters, police officers, dignitaries and many others, ordinary people of every age, bearing umbrellas of every color and size, or wearing ponchos or hooded sweatshirts, their determined faces making their way up the path from the parking lot, not caring about the lack of chairs or even the stiff warm wind blowing rain on their faces.
They came and they huddled, huddled under a sea of open umbrellas, while the color guard of veterans marched up, unprotected, bearing their flags with pride and passion, forming a half circle behind the ring of monuments.
While the weather kept the Bayonne High School Marching Band from making an appearance, the Bayonne High School Choral Group raised their voices, defying wind, rain and the growing dark.
Out of the gloom, the tall shape of Mayor Mark Smith appeared, his trench coat glittering with drops of light-reflected rain. His voice broke through the rain with recollections of that sunny day eight years ago when the attack occurred, and how what seemed like a perfect day turned into one of horror and concern.
He and other officials under the direction of then-Mayor Joseph Doria had come to this very spot, setting up medical units for the thousands of expected wounded, only to learn an even more horrifying fact that you either lived through it or died, and that medical facilities here remained eerily unused.
“Standing here today, it is our obligation to commemorate that day and to remember that day because so many people were impacted by that day,” he said. “The images of that day and its aftermath are burned in my mind, young families trying to find resolution for missing husbands and wives, trying to find closure, trying to find order in what was complete chaos and disorder. But other things that come to mind are how people rose to the occasion.”
The people of Bayonne not only opened their hearts, but also often opened their homes to the people who survived.
“People were stuck in Bayonne. Bridges were closed. Tunnels were closed,” he said. During that time, people from other places forged relationships with people in Bayonne. “We came together as neighborhoods and we came together as a city and we came together as a region and stood tall. And I think that’s the lesson to take from this. That is what we owe these little ones here.”
Smith waved his hand over the heads of children standing near him.
“That is our obligation to them – to stand tall and stand fast in face of adversity, to do what’s right by them,” he said. “We need to give them a peaceful and better tomorrow. And I know in my heart and in my mind that the city of Bayonne is up to that challenge. And we will do just that, because it is morally right and it is needed.”
Thirteen from Bayonne will be remembered
Bayonne, long on the forefront of sending its children to fight for America, lost 13 people in the terrorist attacks. On Sept. 11, 2001, 12 Bayonne residents died in the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and during the aborted hijacking of a jet airliner in the skies over Pennsylvania. On Feb. 26, 1993, a Bayonne resident had died in an attack on the World Trade Center. All were honored with a new monument unveiled on Sept. 11, 2007 at Harbor View Park. The victims of the attacks were: William J. Macko, Alysia Basmajian, Ana M. Centeno, John A. Cooper, Colleen Ann Deloughery, Ramzi A. Doany, John Roger Fisher, Orasri Liangthanasarn, Gavin McMahon, Steven P. Morello, Kenneth Joseph Tarantino, Patricia Cushing, and Jane Folger.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.