South Orange and Maplewood clergy, police, fire and elected officials spoke movingly at the 15th annual observance of the attacks of September 11, asking residents not to respond with “fear and terror” but to embrace love and oneness.
It was a solemn and moving ceremony that had many typically tough talking community leaders overcome with emotion.
A member of the South Orange Rescue Squad who rushed to Jersey City and Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 spoke of his experiences, with tears in his eyes, noting that medical personnel were poised to help thousands.
“We waited and waited and waited … but the big boatloads of injured never arrived.”
Mayor Vic DeLuca’s comments, like those of many others, had an unmistakable message directed toward the upcoming national election: “We cannot give in to the face of terror, but instead we must unite to preserve American ideals for generations to come. We also must find the strength to oppose any hatred or prejudice that might arise out of our anger and sadness. No ethnic or religious community should be treated as suspect and collectively blamed. It is during these most challenging times that we often witness the very best in humanity. And I think it is one of those times [that] we need the very best in humanity.”
Deputy Mayor Nancy Adams read some numbers related to attacks of September 11, recounting the number killed overall, those who perished in each tower, those of each gender, those under age five, those over age 80, etc. Adams choked up when she reached the number of children who lost a parent in the terror attacks: more than 3,000.
Even Maplewood Fire Chief Michael Dingelstedt, a burly firefighter with a bushy mustache that masked emotion, became agitated during the dedication of the new Maplewood 9/11 Memorial at the Hilton Library. Dingelstedt profusely and particularly thanked the many members of the fire department who dedicated time, skill and money to redesigning and rebuilding the monument to give it a broader message to embrace all those whose lives had been touched by the tragedy.
At the close of his remarks, Dingelstedt recited an excerpt of a poem by Cheryl Sawyer entitled “One.” Dingelstedt read:
As the soot and ash rained down, we became one color.
As we carried each other down the stairs of the burning building, we became one class.
As we lit candles of waiting and hope, We became one generation.
As the firefighters and police officers fought their way into the inferno, We became one gender.
As we fell to our knees in prayer, We became one faith.
As we whispered or shouted words or encouragement, We spoke one language.
As we gave our blood in lines a mile long, We became one body.
As we mourned together the great loss, We became one family.
As we cried tears of grief and loss, We became one soul.
As we retell with pride the sacrifice of heroes, We became one people.
We are The Power of One.
We are United.
We are America.
At the end, Dingelstedt added his message: “We must become one again.”
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