Life 10 years later

Local resident remembers September 11, 2001

At the age of 89, Raymond Colbert, a West New York resident, has very vivid memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011. That’s because his son perished on that day.
“I was in New York City teaching French when someone told me what happened in the towers. I said, ‘My son works there,’ ” he recalled sadly last week. “I went walking on Fifth Avenue to 14th Street [and] they wouldn’t let me pass.”

“I was a lucky man until September 11.” – Raymond Colbert
Colbert was one of several residents interviewed last week who shared their memories of the attacks across the river 10 years ago, and how their lives have changed since then.
West New York and Union City lost seven people on that day.

Scared for his son

Colbert’s son, Michel Paris Colbert, worked on Wall Street as a high-level bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald.
“I saw the buildings coming down,” Colbert recalled last week, leaving a long pause after his words. “I went to hospitals, called everyone; they took my DNA sample. We never found him. Missing. Gone.”
His wife, Marie, was at their apartment in West New York when the news came in. A neighbor who had a front-facing view of Manhattan showed Marie the smoke from the towers, and she fainted.
“Every day Michel took the bus to New York City,” he said, pointing to Boulevard East. “He left at 7 a.m. He said ‘see you tonight,’ [and] he never came back.”

Keeping memories alive

“[He was] intelligent, tall and handsome, sweet, and funny,” said Colbert. Michel was born in New York City and lived in West New York in the same building as his parents, but two floors up.
Now, Colbert keeps memorabilia in his apartment about his son. He has a box with copies of news from 9/11 and photographs and documents of Michel. On his walls and desk are more photographs and diplomas.
Michel obtained a bachelor of science degree in 1986 from Stony Brook University in New York. He received a master’s in business administration (1989) from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
His father points to a certificate from the Division of Military and Naval Affairs from January 2002. “He was a Chief Warrant Officer,” he said, reading it. “He was a patriot.”
“He was adventurous,” he added as he flipped though the pages of a small photo album of a trip his son made to Kenya with friends from Wharton. “He traveled around the world. He spoke Spanish with his mother, French with me, English outside the home.” Michel also spoke Italian.
Colbert also keeps pictures of his son, wife, and himself in his wallet to show people who ask him about 9/11. He is willing to share his story with everyone who is interested.

‘Just call me lucky’

Colbert has been writing about his life because friends tell him he should do it. He has a few handwritten pages in which he tells his life story.
Raymond was born in Paris. After living in Europe he arrived with his parents in Jersey City after 21 days on the ocean. His father worked at a factory in Hoboken. Raymond enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 19. He was part of the Torch Invasion as a French interpreter in September 25, 1942. When he came back to the States, he studied at NYU and worked as an electrical engineer in New Jersey.
He married Marie, who is originally from Cuba, and had his only son.
“Cuba is dances, food, music, and beaches,” he said. Marie learned to cook French food and it was so good, Colbert recalls, Michel was always eating with them.
“I never got sick, never had an operation, never been arrested,” Colbert said, referring to his good luck.
He said his luck stopped on Sept. 11, 2001 when Michel “was assassinated at the World Trade Center.”

Life today

Marie got sick two days after their son passed away. She was diagnosed with cancer. Colbert bought Gigi, a Maltese dog, to comfort her. Marie passed away in 2006 at the age of 84.
Gigi is still alive, and his neighbor Ann helps take care of her.
“What the hell am I going to do by myself?” Colbert asked. “I have never been alone.”
He mentioned that the kitchen gets sunny, pointing to his windows, where he has a view of Manhattan.
The walls of the dinning room are decorated with paintings his wife did.
His neighbors from upstairs bring him food and take care of him. He said he goes to bed at midnight and “hates TV and movies,” except a recent one, “Midnight in Paris” that reminds him of his beloved city.
But then he remembered taking Michel at age 4 to Paris. He stopped smiling and said, referring to his son’s death, “Why? I don’t know.”


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group