To remember 9/11 – and introduce the tragedy to a generation of people who weren’t yet born 21 years ago – the township held its annual Remembrance Walk at Washington Lake Park.
“Every year since 9/11, the fire department has decided to do something to remember the firefighters who lost their lives,” said Deputy Fire Chief Matthew Zemski.
Before the pandemic, the township welcomed residents for a small ceremony at Washington Lake Park’s firefighter memorial, where the names of firefighters who died on 9/11 were read and speakers were invited to talk about their experiences of that day.
When COVID called for social distancing, the fire department had to get creative with the annual gathering.
“We decided to start a walk from East Holly Avenue, where we would walk a path through the woods to the park,” Zemski explained. “We would hand out flags to participants and they could place them around the firefighter memorial and walk back.”
According to the chief, the walk was so popular with residents, it was decided to keep it after COVID by replacing the usual ceremony with the Remembrance Walk in 2021. The fire department got a shipment of American flags from Amazon that were used to line the path from the Washington Lake Park Amphitheater to the memorial.
“It is meant to be a quiet and reflective walk,” said Zemski. “Last year, we probably had about 100 people, and we would love and welcome many more.”
Other participants in the walk included all six township fire companies, as well as the police department, ambulance association, the mayor and other council members. The event has also been known to attract firefighters and residents from neighboring towns.
According to Zemski, the walk has become more than just a remembrance for those who lost their lives in 2001. The 18th anniversary of 9/11 was in 2019, when a generation of adults who weren’t alive when the tragedy occurred were introduced to the events of that tragic day.
To Zemski, the walk now symbolizes the memory of an event in American history that those participants were not alive to see.
“I think it’s important, because this was this generation’s Pearl Harbor,” he said. “If you think about it, there are adults graduating high school that weren’t alive when this happened,” the chief noted.
“It’s important to recognize that it happened and remember how we felt on that day … We are the generation that needs to let everyone know what happened.”
Along with the more than 300 firefighters killed on 9/11, thousands more have died from cancer- and PTSD-related illnesses. That day still marks the largest line-of-duty death in a single incident event 21 years later.