The bell tolled 37 times during the memorial ceremony on Jersey City’s waterfront as 9/11 committee members stood by the twisted steel girders salvaged from ground zero and read the names of residents who died during the terrorist attacks 17 years ago. Waleska Martinez lost her life on flight 93.
“It still feels like day one. The pain does not go away, because it was such a senseless act of violence. It doesn’t go away,” said Waleska’s friend Gloria Manderville.
A lone bagpiper played as a grieving Manderville tossed a carnation into the Hudson in her best friend’s memory. The heartfelt ceremony recognized the special role Jersey City played that day.
“As we reflect on what happened here, across the water, this was a triage center. This was the last refuge. This was ground zero on the New Jersey side,” said Gary Nye, co-chair of the Jersey City 9/11 Committee.
“I mean, it was surreal. I actually saw the second plane hit as I was driving into work that morning,” said Jersey City Office of Emergency Management Director Greg Kierce. “I was a police sergeant at the time assigned to special investigations. We were sent down here obviously to assist in any way possible. The ferries started to come in, the boats started to come in.”
“We did a lot of [decontamination] that day. People were coming over covered with, you know, whatever fell on them. A lot of injuries. Just a very chaotic day, but Jersey City — we always try to do the best we can, and we pulled everything together,” said Jersey City Fire Chief Steven McGill.
A Jersey Journal reporter snapped a picture of a police officer carrying a baby off a boat, the child struggling to breathe. Elba Garnier D’Aiuto was that cop, and she’s never forgotten.
“He wasn’t breathing when he came out of the boat. So I said, pass him to me, and I passed him to the EMTs and they were trying to revive him. And there were so many other people there who needed help,” she said.
She says EMTs later told her that the boy made it.
“That makes me feel good. At least I know, I never met the child, but now the child’s like 19, 20 years old. God bless him,” D’Aiuto said.
“I just want to say the ones who really deserve the credit are the guys that wear the uniform — these firemen, policemen and the people of Jersey City,” said Jersey City Councilman Rich Boggiano. “And over the years, the one thing I resented was New York City never, never, really gave us credit here in Jersey City for what we did.”
Against a backdrop of devastation across the river, Jersey City opened its arms 17 years ago. Tuesday, fog shrouded the New York City skyline and many seats at the Jersey City memorial remained empty. Few watched when officials dropped twin wreaths into the river.
“It’s important to make sure everybody remembers. You know, there’s a lot of people I see, even the firemen who’ve come on in the last couple of classes, were little kids when this happened. They don’t realize what actually happened. We have to remind people of the sacrifice that was made that day,” said McGill.
For people who were there, for those who lost loved ones, these memorials continue to offer comfort and a warning never to forget.