20 years after Sept. 11, reminders are all around us
If it seems a bit early for this column’s topic, I have my reasons.
I don’t believe Hammonton has scheduled a public remembrance for the lives lost in the attacks of September 11, 2001 yet. Someone sincere should work on it.
There is a lot of symmetry around the anniversary of September 11 this year. We will end 20 years of having a military presence in Afghanistan.
We used to call it a “global war on terrorism,” one that was supposed to keep further attacks from inside and outside the nation from happening. It some ways, it worked.
In other ways, it did not.
It’s been roughly a generation since the attacks. People who are adults now don’t even remember them or weren’t even born when they happened. This week, I offer some reminders from our own Gazette reporting at the time, including from two eyewitnesses. One lives in Hammonton, and one grew up here. Their words are better than mine on the subject.
Elsie Bakley of Hammonton was in the Millennium Hilton in New York City at 8:30 a.m. on September 11, across Broadway from the World Trade Center (WTC). She was in the city for a training course for the company she was working for at that time.
“I never go to New York. I was only up there for that reason,” Bakley told me in 2001.
Bakley said by 8:45 a.m. after she and others had felt a shudder from their windowless seminar room inside the Millennium Hilton, located at the base of the WTC, they made the decision to leave the hotel.
“We were outside, and I looked around the corner up at one of the towers, and it was ablaze. The air was filled with sirens, and there was so much emergency equipment. There were crowds of people streaming into the street. We decided to move away from the area. We were six blocks away when the tower collapsed,” she recalled then.
She remembered being concerned about the phones not working and being unable to contact her family for hours. She and her group walked from the World Trade Center area, across the Queensboro bridge, past Shea Stadium, and eventually boarded a bus to Port Jefferson. Bakley and the others then boarded a ferry at Port Jefferson and took it to Connecticut, where her company picked them up and put them in rooms in a Stanford, Connecticut hotel. She was able to contact her family from her hotel room.
“People say I’m a survivor, but I think of all those people who were in the middle of everything. I was blocks away when the buildings fell,” Bakley told me at the time.
Michael Carapucci, a 1991 graduate of Hammonton High School, was working in his office on the 42nd floor of 55 Water Street, just several blocks away from the WTC.
“It was close enough to feel everything. When the plane first hit, we thought a bomb went off. I looked out my window and saw the WTC on fire. I watched the building for a few minutes, then curiosity got the best of me and I went to watch the news by the front desk. That was when the second plane struck the second tower. Our building shook,” Carapucci said in 2001.
After some deliberations, Carapucci went down to the lobby, out the building and joined a coworker heading for the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry arrived right before 10 a.m., as the first tower began collapsing.
“When the boat came up to the slip, the building collapsed, and we were engulfed by the cloud of debris. The first feelings of sheer panic set in when the building came down and people began pounding on the doors of the ferry. It was mass hysteria when it happened,” he said.
Carapucci said he did not begin to feel safe until the boat had made it to shore.
“It took us until we were halfway to Staten Island to get out of the cloud. Some people were clapping, but I thought, ‘This isn’t over yet.’ They were handing out life jackets. I didn’t have one,” Carapucci said.
Eventually, Carapucci made it to the home of his wife’s parents. He said seeing his wife Christine was the first thing on his mind.
“She just wanted to see me, and I wanted to see her,” Carapucci said in 2001.
The Gazette of September 19, 2001, headlined “TOWN REACTS TO ATTACKS” is filled with articles and editorials about what happened on September 11, 2001 and our community’s reaction to it. It’s hard not to be proud of the courage of the people who were in New York City, as well as, the selflessness of the people who organized donation drives and those who donated to those drives. The town swiftly assembled a patriotic rally in Veterans Memorial Park on September 15 and a prayer service at St. Martin de Porres Church on September 16, 2001.
Then-Mayor Barbara Berenato spoke at the patriotic rally, in front of a crowd filled with people with American flags and dressed in red, white and blue.
“September 11, 2001 will always be remembered as a day of great tragedy, beyond our wildest nightmares. We were transformed from peace into a country at war,” Berenato said.
At the prayer service, which filled every pew of the large church on Egg Harbor Road, several members of clergy of different denominations of faith spoke. Less than a week earlier, the world changed. Thousands had been killed in terrorist attacks that saw jet airliners turned into missiles. Three struck their targets: two into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York; one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth crashed in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Firefighters. First responders. Military personnel. Civilians. All were taken away in moments.
One of the speakers at the church, Rev. John Del Duca, pastor of St. Martin de Porres, challenged the overflowing crowd in his homily to look inward, to reflect on their own actions and to turn to God.
“Are we totally innocent of the horrors that go on in our world? I think not. Military might is not the answer. Money is not going to bring us happiness. We need to turn ourselves to the Lord,” he said, as the people in the pews listened intently.
He concluded his homily with a quotation not from the Bible but from the second stanza of “America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates that many have not sung or heard, before 2001 or since.
“America! America! God mend thy every flaw/Confirm thy soul in self control/Thy liberty in law,” Del Duca said.
The effects of those attacks remain, 20 years later. The reminders are all around us.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.