“It seems like it happened only yesterday,” said Raymond Colbert, seated on a folding chair while waiting for West New York to begin its memorial to honor those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
Colbert’s son, Michael Paris Colbert, was among three victims from West New York.
The elder Colbert cannot stop thinking about it, and carries a picture of his son.
“Michael was 39,” said Colbert, who turned 94 this year.
Colbert, then 79, was teaching in Manhattan when he heard news about the attack. His son worked in the World Trade Center as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. So he decided to go see if the boy was all right. He was unable to get past the police roadblock at 14th Street.
Born in Paris, Michael Colbert moved to Jersey City with his parents when a young boy. His father had found work in a factory in Hoboken. During World War II, his father served as a French interpreter for the U.S. Army.
Michael’s mother, Maria, became ill two days later the 9/11 attacks, and died of cancer in 2006.
Michael’s remains were never found.
A gathering of the community
The town of West New York has held a memorial to the victims every year since 2011. Unlike in a number other Hudson County towns, the event was well attended, mourners gathering at Donnelly Park on Boulevard East in the evening of Sept. 11 to pay their respects to West New York resident Colbert, William Joseph Cashman, Paul Robert Eckna, and with the nearly 3,000 other victims, including the more than 700 New Jerseyans who died that day.
Members of the West New York Memorial High School Band played The Star Spangled Banner and Taps, joined by fife and bagpiper from the Bayonne Police Department, and members of the West New York and North Bergen Police Departments, and North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue.
“This is our day of reflection.” — Mayor Felix Roque
“This is our day of reflection,” said Mayor Roque. “We remember the good and the bad of that day. This is a wound that will never heal.”
He recalled talking to a friend of his who happened to work in the Pentagon at the time, which was also attacked on that day.
“Fortunately he made it out, “said Roque, a former colonel with the Army Reserve, quoting U.S. Senator Robert Menendez: “I believe there should never be another day like Sept. 11, 2001. America is the last resort of freedom.”
It was the first day of school
Gabriel Rodriguez was in a West New York school when the attack happened, and recalled how scared the kids were when authorizes locked down the school. She said she also remembered the fear at the end of the day when parents came in a hurry to pick up their kids.”
Superintendent of Schools Clara Brito Herrera recalled that Sept. 11, 2001 had been the first day of school, and recalled the clouds of smoke that hung over lower Manhattan for months.
West New York resident Patrick Cullen, who volunteered at Ground Zero in 2001, wore the gear including breathing apparatus that he wore at the site. He had spent about seven weeks at Ground Zero starting in November, 2001. Unlike many of the other volunteers, he said he suffered very little negative health effects. Hundreds of first responders and volunteers at the site have gotten sick as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals.
“I have a little asthma,” he said. “That’s all.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.