Today, of course, is the twelfth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In many ways, the horrors of the attacks brought the American people together as a single community, and in other ways felt deeply personal as well. It did not matter what your background was, who you voted for, what your beliefs were, the people who were killed or injured cut across the beautiful fabric that makes up the United States, as well as visitors from all corners of the globe.
On that horrific day, I remember working in Newark, maybe 10 miles or so west of the World Trade Center. As I was driving east on I-280, I remember hearing the first reports of a plane crash before 9:00 a.m., then seeing the billowing smoke from the top of one of the towers. I remember parking on the upper levels of an office garage and seeing straight across toward lower Manhattan. I remember sitting in my cubicle and contacting my family, realizing that communication might be lost at any moment -- leaving a message for my wife where she was teaching, not being sure how much the schools were aware of the day's events; leaving a message with my in-laws in case my wife got through to them and not to me. I remember calling my mother on Staten Island - the direction in which the smoke was billowing - then realizing that instead of hanging up I should do a conference call with my brothers (one who lived in Manhattan at the time, another who often was in the City, and a third from Boston, from which two of the planes originated). I also remember driving home early that day and avoiding a drawbridge I would usually drive on, not being sure of what other targets there might be. I also remember the weather that Tuesday being particularly nice - beautifully clear and pleasant.
We must always remember the sadness and the tragedy of the day - the people who worked there, the tourists who were visiting, the emergency services personnel who gave their lives to rescue others, the countless volunteers who helped regardless of the risks to their own health and safety. In the fall of 2000, I lost my father after a series of health battles. I couldn't help but think that he probably would have organized a blood drive had he been alive on 9-11.
The skyline of Manhattan is changing now. From the New Jersey side, you can clearly see the rebirth a bit over a decade later. There are many great vantage points of the New York City skyline from the Garden State side of the Hudson River. Liberty State Park in Jersey City was a key part of rescue efforts in 2001; today you can see the dramatic changes with the new One World Trade Center, sometimes called the Freedom Tower. This past July, the new tower was lit up top to bottom in red, white, and blue, an amazing site. Tonight, beams of light will be visible from lower Manhattan after sundown to honor the memory of the victims of the attacks. Because of the ease of access and proximity to New York City, New Jersey represented a very large number of the casualties. One of the most beautiful tributes to the events of that day can be seen in West Orange at Eagle Rock Reservation, a public park. On a clear day, you get an incredibly panoramic view of New York - seeing all the way from the George Washington Bridge to the Rockaways. The names of the victims are engraved on a wall. There are sculptures honoring the emergency personnel. The people aboard the four airplanes that crashed are each individually recognized.
Let us honor all by remembering the tragedy and remembering what makes us strong. Let us remember what a privilege it is to live in this great democracy and to be able to vote for the candidates of our choice. Let us remember that our differences can either pull us apart or make us stronger. The terrorist attacks in 2001 brought together the nation in different ways. That is something worth remembering and upon which to build.