By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY September 13, 2002 September 11, 2001: it was a day when the world seemed to come to a halt.
Two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Around the same time, another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth hijacked plane, believed to be headed for the White House, crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania when the passengers, aware of the other attacks, fought for control of the plane and sacrificed themselves.
On that day, more than 3,000 people lost their lives in one horrific assault.
Shock and disbelief gripped the country. It was the first time the nation had been attacked at home. But Americans came together in a rally of grief and freedom, as well.
As people got back to their normal routines, there were noticeable changes. America was at war. Everyone was more careful and, for awhile, a little friendlier with each other.
As the anniversary approached, the country braced for another attack. Due to reliable information, the country was placed on Orange Alert Tuesday night, September 10.
On this first anniversary, Sullivan County and the entire country remembered the tragic events of last year. Many ceremonies, prayer services, and candlelight vigils were held to commemorate this new day of infamy.
On Tuesday, United States President George W. Bush visited Shanksville, Pennsylvania where the plane was brought down. In New York City, all of the victims names were read by dignitaries and loved ones. Among the 197 people scheduled to read the names were Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, and actor Robert DeNiro. As a part of the ceremony, New York State Governor George Pataki read from the Gettysburg Address, and New Jersey Governor James McGreevey read from the Declaration of Independence.
While most businesses were open Wednesday, employees paused to commemorate the lives lost.
In Sullivan County, numerous events took place throughout the day. At 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane hit the Twin Towers, a moment of silence was held at the Lawrence Cooke Courthouse in Monticello. About 40 people came to the ceremony.
"I saw the towers fall," commented Judge Nicholas Clemente. "It left a gaping hole in my heart. I didn't want to come here today. I didn't want to remember what happened. But we are obliged not to forget. It has only strengthened us."
"Not too long ago, on a sunny, bright day, in a peaceful city busy at work, an ordinary day would test the American resolve in an extraordinary way as never done before," commented Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda. "Steel and concrete crumbled in a ball of fire and columns of smoke that day, resulting in an indiscriminate carnage of American people, men, women, and children. But, through the flames and smoke, the grief and the agony, the wails of sirens, there arose Twin Towers of strength and courage.
"Today, we remember that courage exhibited by all and the supreme sacrifice made by our dedicated firefighters, police, and court officers," LaBuda continued. "Albeit thousands fell that day, we this day stand tall in dignity and in hope for a peaceful world."
At noon at the Sullivan County Government Center, a non-denominational prayer service took place. Before and after the service, the Monticello Post Office made available a special pictorial cancellation, "World Trade Center Station." All proceeds went to the United Way.
"This is a difficult day. We are here to heal," stated Sullivan County Legislature Chair Leni Binder. "After the attacks, we grew together. We have seen that dissipate. We cannot let that happen."
The service was led by Rock Hill United Methodist Church Pastor Steven Knutsen. Other clergy at the event included Rabbi Irwin Tanenbaum of Temple Sholom in Monticello and Reverend Dave McCarthy of the Liberty Free Methodist Church. Well over 150 people attended the service.
"It is nice that so many could take a break in their busy schedules," Pastor Knutsen said. "Peace begins with you. Go in peace."
One of the final events of the day was a candlelight memorial service in Liberty. It was a countywide memorial put together by the Village and Town of Liberty, emergency services, and County Legislator Jodi Goodman, in association with other county officials.
"This has been a sad day," Goodman reflected. "It has been a difficult year. Words cannot describe what has happened. We are a year stronger and a year prouder."
A parade was held from the firehouse on Sprague Avenue to LaPolt Park. Many representatives from fire, EMS, and police departments marched to the memorial, all holding candles in memory of those lost. Over 2,500 came out for the ceremony at the park.
"What were you doing that day?" asked Town of Liberty Supervisor Richard Martinkovic. "You were probably at work or at school. Those who were lost were just going to work. Their memory will never be forgotten."
"We all went through the same range of emotions," noted Village of Liberty Mayor Ed Pankonin. "Do we have the same resolve? Did we slip back to where we were before the attacks? I hope not. Good and evil still exist. We must stay vigilant."
In between speeches and prayers, patriotic songs were performed. As the strong winds ripped through the crowd, strangers, friends and family all huddled together to remember what was lost and what was found.
"This has not been easy," stated Rabbi Marvin Goldman of Congregation Ahavath Israel in Liberty. "They sacrificed their lives for strangers. It showed the strength and power of the human will. They paid the price for freedom. We swear to you, oh Lord, they did not die in vain."
The ceremony ended with a 21-gun salute and the five-bell salute. As the ceremony concluded, despite the cold, people lingered just to be unified.
September 11, 2001: a day that will never be forgotten.