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 Haddonfield 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 America.
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, names of those lost were read as a continual, concrete connection to their lives before Sept. 11, and their enduring spirits thereafter. In Haddonfield, those lives and their legacy were honored.
But on Sept. 11, 2021, 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 ceremony paused in the exact minutes when each hijacked jet struck the World Trade Center on 9/11: 8:46 a.m. for the north tower, 9:03 a.m. for the south tower.
Men and women in the service of others, dressed to the nines, stood stone still as the recollections unfolded. Fire Chief Lou Frontino, whose words were interrupted by the pause at 8:46 a.m., recalled his initial thoughts as he watched the horror unfold on television that terrible day.
“We saw live coverage of the crash unfolding, with no real explanation of how this could have happened,” he revealed. “Having spent eight years as an EMT, I wondered if the pilot had a medical emergency, or if the plane had a mechanical malfunction.
“I watched the fire from the crash, thinking about the people on the plane, and inside the building,” Frontino added. “As the event unfolded, the second plane crashed into the south tower. As I watched in horror and as the situation deteriorated, I quickly understood how many resources would be required.”
Frontino acknowledged that the dedication of firefighters to public safety on the job can sometimes lull citizens into a sense of security, taking for granted that when a department is called, things get better.
“But nobody that day could foresee the events of that morning, going in that direction,” he added.
Thereafter, attendees greeted each other in familiar but muted tones, weighed down 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.
Yet Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich urged a renewed effort to bridge many gaps that separate despite trying times.
“As we find ourselves in what Rev. (Chris) Heckert (Haddonfield United Methodist Church) described as a ‘new normal,’ may we unite again in support of each other, lifting up the heroes that stand here before us today and the helpers,” she said. “Because we are a community of helpers, we are a community full of hope.”