Jersey City Remembers Attacks

Jersey City, N.J., lost 37 residents in the Sept. 11 attacks and became a staging ground for relief efforts. Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Joel Rose. She also talks to NPR's Margot Adler in New York.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host: Now events are also being held in many communities around Manhattan. Across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan is Jersey City, New Jersey. It lost 37 residents in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and became a staging ground for relief efforts. Overall, 746 New Jersey residents died on 9/11. A new memorial in Liberty State Park in Jersey City across from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island was dedicated yesterday.

It's called "Empty Sky", the title of the song written after 9/11 by New Jersey native son Bruce Springsteen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "EMPTY SKY") (Singing) I woke up this morning to an empty sky. Empty sky, empty sky. I woke up this morning...

CORNISH: NPR's Joel Rose joins us now from Liberty State Park. Joel, how clear a view of the World Trade Towers would there have been from where you are standing?

JOEL ROSE: Well, Jersey City is just about a mile across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan so people here had a very clear unobstructed view of the twin towers. But today Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy didn't want to focus on what is not there but on what is visible and that is the new skyscraper that's under construction at One World Trade Center. Let's take a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: My brother, Brian Christopher Novotny, may God bless you. God bless America.

Mayor JERRAMIAH HEALY: I think it's a symbol that this country, certainly this New York metropolitan area, we did not give in, we did not succumb to the terrorists, that we are moving forward and every time I look across the river and see that tower growing a little higher every week, I find it as a sign of optimism, hope, and certainly an inspiration to me and to many others.

CORNISH: Joel, what are people telling you there about how 9/11 affected their lives?

ROSE: Well, I talked to one woman who escaped from the south tower and also an EMT who arrived on the scene in lower Manhattan about 20 minutes after a plane hit the south tower. I spoke to them both this morning in Jersey City and they both told me that 9/11 taught them to live for the moment and to treat each day like it could be their last.

And I also talked to a man in Jersey City who came down from Pennsylvania to Jersey City after 9/11 just because he was drawn to the scene, because he said he wanted to help. And he found himself across the river cleaning up at ground zero for several days after the attacks, working on the pile as they called it, and that man is still doing volunteer work in his community today, so the experience of volunteering on 9/11 had a profound effect on him.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.

CORNISH: We head back to Robert Siegel at ground zero, coming towards the close of the program there.

ROBERT SIEGEL: Yes. We made up all those readings that hadn't come in proper alphabetical order and now the Bookman Children's Chorus is singing "I Will Remember You" and in a moment after they conclude and after we hear "Taps" the service will conclude. Let's listen to the chorus.

BOOKMAN CHILDREN'S CHORUS: (Singing) ...a past that doesn't let me choose. Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night. You gave me everything. You gave me life. I will remember you. I will remember. Will you remember me? I will remember. Don't let your life pass you by. Weep not for all the memories. Don't let your life pass you by. Weep not for all the memories. I will remember you.

SIEGEL: They'll play "Taps". Trumpeter from the U.S. military, one from the New York Police Department, one from the Fire Department, one from the Port Authority Police Department. This is Mayor Bloomberg.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Generations do not cease to be born and we are responsible to them because are the only witnesses that they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAPS")

CORNISH: Robert, I believe we've heard the end of the program at the World Trade Center site. All kinds of minor controversies going into this week but in the end, how did you feel about how the ceremony ended up?

SIEGEL: No sense of controversy at all. A bit improvised and often things didn't happen as they were anticipated, but a beautiful service and one that I suspect was very meaningful to the families that were here. Some day the memorial that we're looking down on from up here on the roof of the World Financial Center will be just another park with a couple of pools.

And I'm sure people will have lunch and stroll and take a break from work in one of the skyscrapers down here in lower Manhattan, but today it's now - it's specially hallowed ground for those who lost a member of the family, a father, a son, a brother, a wife, in those attacks on the World Trade Center towers 10 years ago. The memorial itself from up here looks quite beautiful and people are now making rubbings on paper of the names of their loved one.

Leaving flowers and I think it's been a very fitting, appropriate, and quite a moving ceremony here, Audie.

CORNISH: And really the 9/11 memorial plaza is the first of this 16 acre site to be open to the public. The museum is still a year away from opening and today it really was open only to family.

SIEGEL: Yes. And rising just north of it, you know, is this tower, what they call the Freedom Tower. It will be One World Trade Center Plaza. It's got 80 floors built so far and it is the first new construction that is rising from the site of the old World Trade Center. So it's still a construction site. It's a work in progress. It hasn't been a smooth decade in recovering this site physically but I think you can begin to glimpse today what the future will look like down in lower Manhattan and it, I think, will be quite a memorial to those who lost their lives 10 years ago.

CORNISH: And, Robert, this is not the first time you've covered a memorial event at ground zero. Do you - how did this differ from the events of the past?

SIEGEL: I don't know. I haven't actually been here. I've watched the ceremony from afar. You know, when you see people recall, you know, their brother who died then and call out to them and talk about meeting them on the other side, I think 10 years of, you know, of grief is different from 1 year or 2 years for sure, but of course there's still the sense of great loss.

And, you know, as one always remarks at moments like this, despite a great many tears and despite some expressions of mourning that survive, people look like they're enjoying themselves down there. It's a beautiful ceremony and they were honored by the presence of two presidents, President Obama and President Bush, the former governors of the day, and the mayor of the day and Mayor Bloomberg. And nobody here seemed to take the occasion to attempt to make any point extraneous to the grand mission of today which was to memorialize.

CORNISH: NPR's. Robert Siegel in New York. Robert, thank you.

SIEGEL: Sure. Thank you, Audie.

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