Thanks to all of you for joining us this morning as we remember the nearly 3,000 of our fellow Americans – including 12 of our friends and family from Westfield – whom we lost on this fateful day 20 years ago. Although this annual gathering is borne out of unspeakable tragedy, there is some solace in knowing that we continue to gather here, year after year, in solidarity and heartbreak, to pay our respects, open our hearts, and ensure that we always remember.
I would like to first recognize the Westfield Police and Fire Departments and the Westfield Rescue Squad for their participation today, and our Public Works Department for beautifully maintaining this 9/11 Memorial. A special thanks to Deacon Keith Gibbons and Sal Caruana for their time and dedication in organizing today’s ceremony. I’d also like to acknowledge Reverend W.E. Lawson of St. Luke AME Zion Church, Reverend Alison Philip of the First United Methodist Church, Rabbi Ethan Prosnit of Temple Emanu-El, and Reverend Monsignor Thomas Nydegger of the Church of St. Helen for their participation and prayers. We are grateful that you can be with us.
It’s fitting that we gather together under a crystal clear blue sky on this picture-perfect late summer day, just as it was on that Tuesday morning 20 years ago today. In years past, we have come together as a community in the evening each year on September 11 at this beautiful memorial site to gather, remember, mourn, and reflect. This year, on the 20th anniversary, we felt it important to gather in the morning so that we can stand in solidarity as the bells are rung at 8:46 and 9:03 in remembrance of the moments that are forever embedded in our memories as we recall where we were at precisely those moments that defined the attacks on Lower Manhattan.
In the 20 years since that day, so much has changed, but today I would like to talk about what has remained a constant -- the commitment that the people of Westfield demonstrate to one another. We have seen this commitment to community in many ways, both bold and nuanced, in acts of overt generosity and random kindness over time, and especially in the last year and a half as we navigated a global pandemic together. But perhaps the truest example of Westfield’s character in times of crisis is this very memorial where we stand today -- the first permanent 9/11 memorial in the State of New Jersey.
This beautiful memorial was funded, designed, and installed in less than a year’s time entirely by Westfield residents and businesses. More than 100 men, women, and children devoted themselves to the manual labor of installation, the materials for which were also donated by members of the community. And poignantly, members of the Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad, Westfield Police, and Fire Department stood honor guard for 33 hours preceding the site’s dedication ceremony. It is truly a labor of love, grief, respect, and unity. Our collective thanks go to all those who played a part in making this memorial a sacred site of enduring legacy and deep meaning for the residents of Westfield.
When the memorial was dedicated on September 21, 2002, former Mayor Greg McDermott presided over the ceremony and spoke these words that still ring true today: “Our painful journey has brought greater meaning to our daily lives and deeper appreciation for the community we call home. It is a gift for Westfield, from Westfield, for those in the community of neighbors that we will never forget.”
Indeed, we will never forget. And I have no doubt that our community spirit and commitment to each other will continue to stand the tests of time and loss under any circumstances.
I am so pleased that former Mayor McDermott is here with us today as the Westfield community continues to embody his very poignant words 19 years later. His leadership during the tragedy of 9/11 and the months that followed demonstrated compassion, commitment, and strength, and I thank him on behalf of a grateful community.
More broadly, outside of Westfield, we are reminded of the pain and loss the entire country felt in the aftermath of 9/11 and how it served as an inflection point around the world with lasting consequences that impacted many nations. Today is also a day to honor our many veterans who served in Afghanistan over the years to protect us here at home, and especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of American freedom. Their patriotism and heroism will never be forgotten.
We will also never forget the friends, neighbors, and family members we lost on 9/11, their names etched on this sacred memorial and those in NYC, the Pentagon, Shanksville, PA and communities like ours all around the nation. To honor their legacy, let’s strive to embody the community spirit that brought us this memorial, and let it serve as a reminder that there is much more that unites us than divides us, even when the daily news cycle suggests otherwise.
For the loved ones of our Westfield neighbors who we specifically remember today, please know that you will forever be a part of this community, regardless of where your path may take you.
May God continue to bless you and look over you, and may God Bless this great community and the United States of America.