TOMS RIVER – Ocean County College held a 9/11 Commemoration outside its Gateway Building, where victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks who lived in Ocean County were honored with flags placed around a wreath.
According to humanities teacher Richard Trimble, who spoke during the ceremony, Ocean County College was one of the first organizations in the state to receive steel from the World Trade Center and build a memorial, which is now located in the library.
“This piece of steel is not broken, it’s bent. America was bent, misshapen, we were traumatized by that day, but we didn’t break,” said Trimble.
Christopher Bottomley, College Lecturer of Business at OCC, was working across the street at Two World Financial Center for Merrill Lynch on the day the towers fell.
“It’s a day that yes, we’ll never forget, but I specifically will never forget, and quite frankly this is the first time in 16 years that I’m speaking about it,” he said.
Bottomley said he went to work as usual that day, a bright, warm day not unlike the day of the ceremony, and was at his desk on the 27th floor between 8 and 8:30 a.m. when he and his colleagues heard a large crash and felt a thud beneath their feet.
“So naturally, we were drawn to the windows where I remember ladies gasping, ‘Oh my God, a helicopter hit the North Tower.’ ”
He remembers looking at the gaping hole and burning flames and saying to himself, “This is no helicopter, it’s a large jumbo jet.”
Once the second plane hit, Bottomley and his colleagues decided not to wait for instructions to evacuate and started walking down the 27 flights of stairs.
“It was orderly, it was not chaotic,” he said. That order, however, turned out to be the calm before the storm.
“My biggest memory was while I was in the plaza trying to reach my loved ones and my family at the time, watching the North Tower burning, witnessing people jumping to their death, and I said to myself, what a terrible choice to make, having to either burn to death or jump to one’s death,” said Bottomley.
He said it was difficult to describe the sound that makes, but it is one that will remain with him for the rest of his life. Although 16 years later Bottomley is beginning to recover from that horrific experience, he said it took him six years to get over nightmares, and that he fears crossing bridges and tunnels and being in large crowds.
He said his viewpoints have certainly hardened over the years since 9/11, to where he feels any act of terror is an act of cowardice and that it is not an understatement to be vigilant and aware when it comes to U.S. policy.
“I love my county, I love my state, I love my family here at OCC, I love my family at home, and every day for me is a blessing,” he said.
Featured speaker and New Jersey’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno shared her own memory of 9/11 and a decision she faced of whether or not to pick up her then eight-year-old son from school. She decided to keep him in school, as opposed to having him come home and see the towers collapse on TV all day long. When she picked him up at the bus stop at the end of the day, he asked her why she didn’t come and get him, since everybody else had left.
“Sixteen years later, he’s a First Lieutenant in the United States Air Force flying an F16. And what does that tell me? That tells me that our children will always remember where they were that day and how important what happened to them was that day.”
Guadagno urged those at the ceremony to conjure the feeling that they had as a community and as Americans on the day after the attacks, when we shared a common unity and anger over people who would dare to attack us on our own soil.
“It was a unity that belied all gender, all feeling of party, all feeling of race, all feeling of differences and it made us come together in a way that I miss today; a way that I hope that we all gather today and we all feel again.”
Volunteers placed flags in the grass around a wreath in memory of the over two dozen people from Ocean County who lost their lives during 9/11 either in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or the plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Jason Ghibesi, College Lecturer of Political Science/History and Lynn Kenneally, Professor of Business and Social Sciences read the names out loud, along with where they lived, who they left behind and where they worked.
A bagpiper from the Ocean County Emerald Society played once all the flags were placed around the wreath.
Acting Associate Vice President of Kean-Ocean Stephen A. Kubow, Ph.D. said he always wanted to visit the Windows on the World restaurant on the top of the North Tower, but figured it would always be there, that he’d get there someday.
“Now that it is 16 years later, we have in many ways moved on and I fear we are beginning to forget. In a few short years the majority of our students will have been born post-9/11 and will have never have seen the actual World Trade Center building or how the New York City skyline was forever changed.”
Kubow said it is important, now more than ever, for educators to keep teaching their students about what happened that day and to put partisan politics aside.
“Only through the fulfillment of our role producing an educated and historically literate society can we truly say we will never forget,” he said.