A Day Of Service and Remembrance
By Muriel J. Smith
Monmouth County’s 9/11 Memorial ceremony began promptly at 7:59 a.m. Friday atop Mount Mitchill, marking the precise moment 14 years ago that American Airlines Flight II left Boston’s Logan Airport 14 minutes late with a destination of Los Angeles International. That was the first of four flights hijacked that day and all crashing, two into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, one in Shanksville, Pa and one into the Pentagon in, Arlington, Va. killing thousands and invigorating the nation with a new stream of patriotism and courage.
A few miles away, an American flag flown over the World Trade Center on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, blew in the morning breeze at a ceremony at Memorial Gardens, the serene, blessed cove near the Middletown Arts Center where the township has a perpetual reminder that 37 of their residents lost their lives that day 14 years ago. In addition, an American flag flown over the United States Capitol in memory of these Middletown residents also flies at Town Hall. Banners hung on telephone poles along Kings Highway, Church St. and Middletown-Lincroft Road will remain all month honoring the victims, a gift of local businesses, organizations and private individuals. The ceremony, attended by Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, Mayor Stephanie Murray, and the township committee, and hundreds who lost loved ones, was moving, sincere, and part of the constant reminder that Middletown never forgets its own. Silence followed the tolling of a bell 37 times by William J. Kinlin, Past Cmdr. of American Legion Post 515.
Then, a single piper, Michael Hannigan from Middletown, played Amazing Grace as he led the procession to the Garden Walk to pay their respects at the proper marble monument, one for each of the 37 lost.
People mourned at their loved one’s marker, some leaving flowers, some just touching the markers for comfort and others placing wreaths. Officials also attending the service include Schools Superintendent William George, representatives from the township’s fire, police, and emergency responders, as well as representatives of VFW 2179, American Legion 338, and American Legion 515.
Two framed proclamations from Gov. Christie were read commemorating the moment, one declaring Sept. 11 a national day of service and remembrance and the other a letter acknowledging Middletown’s loss.
Mount Mitchill’s ceremony, planned by the Board of Freeholders and the County Park System, included the Honor Guard from NWS Earle, Colts Neck, together with the Pipes & Drums of the Atlantic Watch and soloist Susan Mangini, leading a crowd of well over 100 in words, music, and song commemorating what President George W. Bush referred to at the time as the 21st century Pearl Harbor.
Freeholder Lillian Burry, who welcomed the crowd and served as mistress of ceremonies, referred to the 2001 date as “a day that changed our lives forever.” She stressed how the attack on America failed in its efforts to bring down a country and spoke instead about the peace and tranquility of the county park at the highest point of land, with the exception of islands, between Maine and Florida. She urged guests at the ceremony to spend some time at the Mount Mitchill Memorial, which was begun less than a year after the attack and completed within three years.
Hundreds had stood in this same place 14 years earlier and watched in shock and disbelief as the Twin Towers burned and collapsed. Burry reminded visitors that the piece of metal held by the concrete eagle in the park’s Memorial was brought back to the site by Parks and Office of Emergency Management personnel, a vivid reminder that 140 residents of Monmouth County lost their lives in the attacks. Each is recalled on the Mount Mitchill monument, engraved in stone with their ages and communities of residence. Burry spoke of the seven birch trees planted at the site to represent the three planes and four buildings that were under attack, and noted
how the park’s Journey of Grief went from darkness and shadows to light and flowers symbolic of the stages of grief everyone went through because of the tragedy.
Assemblyman Robert Clifton of Matawan read a letter from Governor Chris Christie praising the spirit of New Jerseyans as exemplified by military, emergency workers, police and firemen who were “united against hatred”.
Acting County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni also spoke on the terrorist’s failed attempts to “break our will,” but cautioned all to recognize what so many do not know … the gift of time. Gramiccioni was in the Navy in 2001, he said, and was assigned to the Washington Navy Yard where he was directed to stand post with an assault rifle at the time of the attack. Last year, he served in Afghanistan and strongly believes that the attacks galvanized America and “brought out the best in us.”
Park rangers tolled a bell during the ceremony as Burry recounted the seven significant moments in time from when Flight II hit the North Tower until that tower collapsed at 10:20 a.m. The seven tolls were followed by a moment of silence before the Rev. William Riker of Locust led those gathered in a benediction. Rangers than laid flowers and raised the flag at the memorial before taps were played and the program concluded.
Among the many officials and county employees attending the ceremony was Library Commission Member James Gray who was clerk to the Board of Freeholders in 2001. His son, Christopher S. Gray of Manalapan, was killed in the tower collapse. He was 32 years old.
County Parks Director James Truncer was also present for the ceremony, a position he had held since November, 1973, when the County first acquired what is now Mount Mitchill Park. Originally scheduled to be a high-rise apartment complex, identical to the one on the adjacent property in Highlands. Monmouth County acquired the land with Green Acres Funds when Joseph Irwin, Freeholder director, and Victor Grossinger was chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The Memorial came about at the request of numerous local residents, many of who had stood at the park overlooking the New York Skyline on Sept. 11, 2001, and all of who wanted a memorial to the Monmouth County residents who lost their lives that day. The Freeholders created a committee to design and raise funds for the memorial. Working with the Friends of the Monmouth County Park System and the Monmouth County 9/11 Memorial Committee, funds were raised from donations throughout the county, including major corporations, big and small businesses, individuals, families, restaurants, physicians, hospitals, local police and county detectives, labor unions, and the thousands of pennies, nickels dimes and dollars raised in 33 Monmouth County public and Catholic schools.
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