Many hours before the Sept. 11 commemorative ceremonies were scheduled to start last week, people started to arrive at Harbor View Park in Bayonne.
Hundreds gathered around Zurab Tsereteli’s “To Struggle Against World Terrorism” monument, the 100-foot high structure that the people of Russia gave to Bayonne two years ago.
“I didn’t understand what was going on at first,” said Gary Chmielewski, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, who had come during the morning hours to oversee the setting up of chairs and the public address system for a ceremony scheduled to start at 7 p.m. “It seems that many of the people were here because they were sailing out on the cruise ship or seeing someone off and wanted to pay their respects.”
During the hours afterward, others came, individuals paying their respects by leaving flowers on the base of the huge monument – a single pink rose on one side, clumps of red and white flowers on other sides. Hundreds arrived later for the official ceremony.
Frank P. Perrucci, chairman of the “September 11…Bayonne Remembers” Committee, said this was not only an annual remembrance of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, but that the ceremony also honored the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993.
Members of the Hudson County Marine Corps League came to honor William J. Macko – the one New Jerseyan who lost his life in the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
The solemn affair included bagpipes by Bayonne’s Thomas Mulbern; the Pledge of Allegiance by Agnes Kalinowski; words of remembrance by Mayor Terrence Malloy; and prayers from Bayonne’s clergy, including Rev. Robert A. Pachana, Rev. Joseph Barbone, Sister Mary Ellen Ford, Rabbi Gordon Gladstone, Rev. Msgr. Paul D. Schetelick, Rev. Ernest Rush, Rev Gerard A. Pisani, and Pastor Laura Thelander.
Paying tribute to the deceased were color guards from the Bayonne police and fire departments; the Veterans’ Color Guard from the Bayonne Memorial Day Parade Committee; the Bayonne High School Marching Band; trumpet players; and Sweet Harmony, a choral group at Bayonne High School.
Perhaps the most moving moment came when Perrucci lit the candle before Bayonne’s memorial to the 13 Bayonne residents whose lives were cut short as a result of the 2001 and 1993 attacks.
Malloy said that like the Holocaust and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Sept. 11 was “one of those days when humanity failed.”
“But sometimes, out of our failure comes strength,” he said. “Our strength was seen that day and since. It was a day when Bayonne pulled together to help – donating clothing, medical supplies, food and more. This site [the former Military Ocean Terminal] was the focal point through which goods came for the survivors.”
However, Malloy said that people tend to forget.
“It is our role to serve as a reminder,” he said. “These victims are remembered, and it is through remembering them that they live on. Indeed by remembering them, we best assure that events like those won’t happen again.”
Pastor Thelander, in her reflection on the day, said that Sept. 11 changed everything, and yet at the same time, nothing has changed.
“For too many people, Sept. 11 is equated with sheer pain, fear, loss of security, tragic death of loved one,” she said. “Even many that survived are marked by scars.”
She called the attacks a wakeup call to Americans that we are no longer immune to acts of terrorism.
But she said in some ways life goes on, unchanged – that the war, violence and fear are things that have always been with us.
“These come with a broken, fuller world where strangers are feared and violence is the preferred path, and where the poor and the vulnerable are often forgotten,” she said, saying the World Trade Center site and its transportation hub are a crypt through which people pass every day on their way to work and elsewhere. Entering that space becomes a reminder of how brief life can be.
“But it is not a sealed tomb, but a hub through which travelers connect to the world,” she said. Offering a prayer, she said what remains unchanged is God’s forgiveness and his transforming love.