TOMS RIVER – It has been 18 years since the events of September 11, 2001 and each year, Ocean County College observes Patriot Day, a day reflecting on the loss of the nearly 3,000 people killed in terrorist attacks, with a solemn ceremony.
The ceremony also commemorates those who risked their lives to save others.
“It was a clear Tuesday morning when it all happened. I had retired and I was living with family in Minnesota. I saw on TV what was happening and I was in disbelief,” said this year’s speaker, retired Port Authority Police Capt. Paul Brady.
Brady spoke about how he returned to the northeast to be of help at Ground Zero days later. The Port Authority had lost the largest number of police that day. “I had trained 37 of them,” Brady said.
“I got down to Ground Zero and I was in awe of what was 110 stories of skyscraper and what was now 20 stories of rubble. Where do you start?”
“I remember the smell, it was an acrid smell, something like I had never smelled before. I saw two officers down there and they saw me and saluted. I told them you don’t have to salute me I’m retired you can call me Paul. I said I’m glad you guys are both okay. They had both worked for me at one time.
“Their eyes watered up and they said ‘You want to know why we’re okay boss? Because there were so many people falling or jumping that we couldn’t get inside. We couldn’t get through the crowd of bodies that were bouncing off the sidewalks.’
“I’ll never forget that day and I’ll never forget that smell,” Brady said.
“We continued to work, mostly in silence and every time a body was recovered, we would stop and honor them. They were all treated with dignity and respect.”
Brady described another experience while at Ground Zero. “When we were leaving Ground Zero there were people on the street and they started clapping. I couldn’t understand why. We were just doing our job. It was their way of showing appreciation for what we were doing. It was difficult. It was hard work.
“More than that, during that time nobody was white or black, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. We were all Americans. That was a wonderful feeling. I hope some day we can get back to that feeling where we are delighted that we are Americans. We are the greatest people on the planet. You will never find a more loving, benevolent, accepting culture than ours,” Brady said.
“I have done a lot of traveling all over the country after 911 and the nicest words I hear when coming through from customs is ‘Welcome home, Mr. Brady.’ Let’s be Americans. There were acts of kindness that were too plentiful to count. I think that in these years that have passed our country has grown in so many different ways but we are still basically one people and we should be very proud of that,” Brady said.
Brady added another personal experience as he welled up at the microphone at the podium outside the campus’s Gateway Building.
“This is very emotional for me. I lost my best friend that day, Tony Infante. I worked with him. He was a wonderful guy. He never got to have that fantastic feeling of seeing his children grow up or being a grandparent. It breaks my heart to think about that,” Brady said.
“Every year we remember that day and it brings back memories of heartbreak and lost friends but there are also good memories of how we all came together,” Brady said.
Acting Associate Dean for OCC/Kean Dr. Jessica Adams said, “In the wake of tragedy, we pulled together. Days like today give us perspective as we move forward in this time of political divide. Remember to be kind and never forget.”
Retired OCC Professor Richard Trimble spoke about the bravery of the passengers and crew aboard hijacked flight 93 which crashed at 10:07 a.m. in Pennsylvania.
Trimble said he had visited the site earlier this year and noted “a sign there where the crash took place and it says, “common field one day, a field of honor forever.”
“They fought back and in a very real sense they won,” he said, noting that the intended target of that plane was intended by terrorists to be the capital building.
OCC College Lecturer in criminal justice, Ben Castillo, served as emcee for the ceremony. Robert Solan, a retired Elizabeth Fire Department member sang “God Bless America” as members of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard presented the colors for the service.
Kean-Ocean alumna Kathryn Latona recited the poem “Who Am I?” while OCC College Lecturer, Political Science/History Jason Ghibesi joined OCC Business/Social Sciences Professor Lynn Kenneally in reading the names of all the Ocean County residents who died during the attacks of 911.