BURLINGTON COUNTY, NJ -- On the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America, Burlington County officials, first responders and residents came together Friday during a solemn 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony to pay their respects to the more than 3,000 victims who lost their lives. The 30-minute ceremony held outside the County Emergency Services Training Center was the first time the County hosted a memorial service on the anniversary date.
Deputy Director Tom Pullion who lead the ceremony said the County opted to start the new tradition this year in order to honor the victims and remember the tragedy amid the country’s struggle against the coronavirus pandemic.
"Why now? We must never forget. A lot has changed. A whole generation exists that this is just names or photographs," said Pullion, who added that the County and nation still has a responsibility to remember the attacks and the lives that were lost.
“And most importantly, how such a horrible tragedy brought us together as one nation, blind to race, religion, status or political party. We became one national family, united in mourning but also in belief that together we can overcome whatever challenges we face,” Pullion said. “Today, with our country once again facing enormous challenges, we need that same unity, that same resolve and that same faith. We hope that today’s ceremony can help put us on that path."
The ceremony also featured remarks from Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina, state Senator Troy Singleton, Congressman Andy Kim and County Board member Dan O’Connell, who read the names and biographies of seven of the victims who resided in Burlington County or had strong ties to the county.
The seven 9/11 victims with Burlington County ties are Nicholas Bogdan, 34, Pemberton Township resident; Pamela Gaff, 51, Westampon native; Joan D. Griffith, 39, Willingboro resident; LeRoy W. Homer Jr., 36, Evesham resident; Gricelda James, 44, Willingboro resident; Patrick Quigley IV, 40, Willingboro native; and Kevin York, 41, Pemberton Township native.
Kim said that as he left the house for the event and his three-year old followed him, he thought of the generation of children who are "growing up without any knowledge of what happened. We have a commitment going forward that this is engrained in the fabric of our country."
"This is a tragedy for our Country now and forever," said Kim. “So I’m glad we’re gathering here today and I hope we will continue to do this for as long as we’re alive. I hope we continue to do this for as long as we’re a nation, because that is what this moment is for us. It changed us forever and we know it will make us stronger forever.”
Coffina, who is the county’s highest ranking law enforcement official, said the ceremony marked his first time addressing a 9/11 service.
“Perhaps the worst day in our history was in some ways also our finest hour. First responders honored their calling by rushing towards danger in order to save others, while ordinary people, who took no oath, demonstrated their humanity by trying to help their co-workers and perfect strangers find their way out of the burning towers,” Coffina said. “As a nation we woke up on Sept. 12 truly unified. We could all benefit from finding that spirit again. It should not take such a traumatic event for us to do so.”
Singleton also called for residents to remember the selflessness of the police, fire and emergency service personnel who were willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to try to save “every life they could.”
“Nineteen years ago our country was transfixed and transformed. But out of that anguish and pain, there was a sense of unity in our country that pulled us forward,” Singleton said. “When we look at the conditions we have today … we should harken back to the selflessness that was demonstrated by those in public safety that day. It is the resolve that we are always stronger together and when we work together.”
Sheriff Basantis placed a wreath at the base of the obelisk memorializing the county’s fallen emergency services members. He was joined by Mount Laurel Police Chief Steve Riedener, Westampton Fire and EMS Chief Craig Farnsworth and Endeavor Emergency Squad Chief David Ekelburg.