The following article was published in September 2014 with the headline, “Toms River Fire Co. No. 1 Gathers in Spirit of 9/11,” and incorporated the speeches made by officials as well as comprehensive photography of the event.
TOMS RIVER – Thirteen years after the September 11th terrorist attacks stole nearly 3,000 lives and scarred the American psyche for at least a generation, Toms River-based Rev. Anthony Lipari on Thursday faced a modest crowd of mostly local first responders during the annual Toms River Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 memorial ceremony and stated that although he’s “been hearing that people are tending to forget” about the importance of that day, he was emboldened by the service of today’s emergency personnel and military who keep its memory and spirit alive in their hearts.
Held on the corner of Washington and Robbins streets here, the remembrance ceremony drew township officials, fire company and police department members and several dozen area residents who reflected upon that day so close in memory for those old enough to have experienced it yet, as evidenced by the groups of disinterested teenaged students heading to lunch from nearby Toms River High School South, a fading history lesson for others.
Rev. Lipari recalled a past trip he took with high school students to the site of a different tragedy now too long ago for many alive today to have a primary memory of, the World War II Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, Germany, and seeing the words “Never Again” written in stone. From that, he said, he was inspired to ask they be repurposed for the September 11th, 2001 attacks to “Never Forget.”
The reverend also shared his memory of that day.
“On that Tuesday morning, I was stationed in Nutley, New Jersey as a parish priest, and my other job was to be a police chaplain and a fire chaplain. It was supposed to be my day off; a day that I would come down to Seaside Heights on a beautiful Tuesday morning just to see some of my friends down there,” he stated, when the attacks occurred and the world changed. He then received a phone call from his police department that he would be going into the city with them instead. “Then, just as I was waiting for the police to pick me up, a woman entered the rectory. Her name was Linda.”
“Linda was talking on the telephone with her husband, Franco. Franco was listening obediently to the sounds of a speaker in the World Trade Tower saying that all members should stay where they are. His staff were gathered around the conference room and they were getting scared. They were hearing screams,” Rev. Lipari continued. “But they wanted to leave and he wanted them to stay because that’s what the speaker said. After a couple of minutes, he let them go and he remained on the phone with Linda until the building began to fall.”
While spending the next four days in the city, he stated he was asked by Nutley officials to speak to the children of the town that Friday night.
“I was told it was probably going to be about 150 kids at 2 o’clock. By 6 pm, the superintendent called me up and said, ‘We’re going to have to move it onto the field.’ One of my police officers, as I walked onto the field, said, ‘Father Anthony, we stopped counting at 6,000 people.'” the reverend said. “Everyone was holding candles. We were enamored and emboldened by the words of President [George W.] Bush, but our hearts were still aching.”
He added that he performed approximately 25 funerals for victims of the attacks.
“Each one hurt because it was people I loved and cared for. As a remembrance, the Port Authority gave me a piece of the building,” Rev. Lipari said. “I’m going to pass it around. It’s heavy. It’s in the shape of a cross to remind us faith got us through that day.”
The small but heavy steel cross mounted on wood was then passed among those present, from township officials to fire company members to police officers.
Toms River Fire Company No. 1 Chaplain Richard Beck recounted in detail the historic facts of that day and noted that prior to 2001, September 11th was recognized in four states to commemorate the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. He added that four firefighters in their company – Michael Dwyer, Brian Durkin, John Daniel Mount and Kyle Gervasio – were currently serving in the military.
Assistant Chief John Genovese noted that Chief John Mount was unable to be present at the day’s ceremony because he was at Fort Bliss in Texas welcoming home his son, John Daniel, a private first class serving in the infantry.
Councilman Maurice B. “Mo” Hill, a retired rear admiral with the Navy, spoke on what draws Americans together as a nation and the fight still ongoing in the Middle East.
“What makes us a strong country is the fact that we come from all different nations, all races, all creeds, all religions, but we’re bound together by our common love of freedom,” he said, adding that core principle was reflected in the first responders who rushed into the World Trade Center as it burned to save the people inside. “They didn’t ask what religion they were, they didn’t ask what race they were or where they came from – they were Americans, and that’s what makes us a special nation.”
The councilman added that the military and first responders had transitioned from a Cold War “when we were prepared for a massive invasion into Western Europe and a possible nuclear confrontation” to the current smaller-sized military but that the “regional conflicts” it is now embroiled in have led us into a “less safe world.”
“We’re dealing with people who, quite frankly, are not good operators,” he continued. “Last night, we listened to our president commit our forces to an air campaign. I would argue that be prepared for this to be more than just an air campaign. To win this battle and win it effectively, we will have to literally eliminate [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] ISIS and the bad operators of terrorism.”
At the close of the ceremony, past fire company chief, Mark Autenrieth sounded a fire bell to signal the passing of those lost in the September 11th attacks, Silverton Volunteer Fire Company Asst. Chief Robert Sinnott played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, Rev. Lipari gave benediction and the fire company siren was sounded once.