A clear morning and a cloudless sky greeted millions of East Coast residents on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Twenty years later, that same clear and bright morning greeted Cherry Hill residents as they joined police, firefighters and municipal leaders to mark a solemn milestone in the journey of remembrance for those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Often called the most documented event in human history, 9/11 saw the deaths of nearly 3,000 souls – including more than 400 first responders – when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania.
At ceremonies across the country on Sept. 11, 2021, names of those lost were read as a continual, concrete connection to their lives before 9/11, and their enduring spirits thereafter.
In Cherry Hill, the lives and the legacy of the 9/11 victims were honored in a ceremony outside fire department headquarters. But on that Saturday, those who were called to speak concentrated on a few key concepts: the power of memory, hope, compassion, resilience and resolve, and the need to recover a sense of community and unity in the coming years.
The sole interruption during the ceremony occurred at the exact time the first hijacked jet struck the north tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11: 8:46 a.m. Men and women in the service of others, dressed to the nines, stood stone still as the recollections unfolded.
Across the country, names of those lost were read as a continual, concrete connection to their lives before 9/11, and their enduring spirits thereafter. And their lives and legacies were honored in Cherry Hill.
“Like many of you, I find it hard to fathom that today marks 20 years,” said Cherry Hill Mayor Susan Shin Angulo. “Twenty years since so many parents were stolen from their children, and husbands and wives lost the loves of their lives. Twenty years since we watched the news unfold, gripped by fear and overwhelming grief.”
Angulo called on the moment to spur deep reflection on the time elapsed, and to recall the loss of American servicemen and women in wars that followed the attacks.
“At the same time, this anniversary also allows us to contemplate the future we want to see in the next 20 years,” she continued. “We must ensure that our next generation knows about their stories, sacrifices, and the loved ones who miss them still, every day.”
Thereafter, attendees greeted each other in familiar, but muted tones, weighted by the seriousness of the occasion. In the last two decades, as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has seen nearly perpetual conflict in the “war on terror.”
The undertaking has involved extended interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan to upend terrorist cells and spread stable democracies to those nations marked by ethnic and tribal differences. According to the Department of Defense, through the early part of this month, more than 7,000 men and women have died in those conflicts, out of almost four million who served.
Council President David Fleisher revealed his deep admiration for men and women like former colleague and current County Commissioner Melinda Kane, a Gold Star mother who managed to turn her pain into purpose.
“As we face the challenges of today, I am confident that as a nation and a community we can find our way once again,” Fleisher noted.