There was a processional of dignitaries and first responders to one of the most scenic 9/11 memorials in the state, a 21-gun salute, bagpipes, a chorus, the solemn reading of the 64 names of Morris County residents who were lost — and a blessed intervention that held off the rain until just minutes after the ceremony ended.
The 22nd version of the Morris County 9/11 Remembrance, held Sunday night (as it always is) in Parsippany, had everything you would expect at an event that always is first rate.
This year, it also included a reminder: If we truly are dedicated to the simple phrase — “Never forget” — then we must plan for a future when many of the population are too young to recall.
It’s coming soon.
Marine Nick De Gregorio, the keynote speaker, offered one incredible statistic in a moving address: One-third of today’s population was born after 9/11.
“It therefore falls to the remaining two-thirds of us to ensure that the memory of this day lives on in our next generation and the many generations to come,” he told those gathered.
Where were you on 9/11?
It’s a question many are pondering Monday. It was a defining day — in so many different ways — for those of us who lived through it.
De Gregorio was a 16-year-old at Bergen Catholic then. He said the day left him with a deep sense of loneliness and vulnerability — until he and his mom reached a point where they could see the New York City skyline.
“What we found was much more than just a landscape of wreckage and black smoke,” he told the crowd. “Dozens of people were already there. They stood in tearful silence, acknowledging us with head nods as we peered out to see what we did not want to see.
“It is sometimes said that grief cannot be shared, that we must all carry it in our own way. I don’t think that’s always true.
“Those of us on that lookout point went up there thinking that we were searching for a glimpse in the aftermath. But I think we really came back down realizing that what we were really searching for was each other. And it would be that shared sense of grief and community that would help us persevere through the difficult times ahead.”
The crowd at the event certainly skewed older — and those who attend annually couldn’t help but notice the numbers were down again.
For some, the emotion of the day still is too strong. For others, the passage of time has dulled its impact.
There was, however, a glimmer of hope for the future.
Among those in the processional were two dozen or so members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets, a group of middle-school- and high-school-aged students who form the Travis Manion battalion out of Picatinny, one of 400 or so battalions around the country.
The group, which meets once a month throughout the year and for a more extensive week of training in the summer, is learning more than just drills. It’s learning the importance of honor and duty in a program that leads many into the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
It’s the next generation of citizens that De Gregorio was speaking of.
“When I saw the statistic, the need for us to really make sure that those of us who were around for it to get the message out to those who weren’t and make sure that it lives, really hit home,” he said.
“I think that this is all very real for those of us who lived through it — and second nature for us to want to communicate that message.
“You look back at so many events that fade into history. We need to hold on to this.”
John Krickus, the director of the Morris County Commissioners and a Marine himself, understands the importance of remembrance.
He is moved by the emotion of 9/11 every year. And, every year, he is discouraged when he sees the atmosphere of hope fade away.
“One theme in everybody’s remarks was unity,” he said. “We need to live that, not just today, not just on Memorial Day or July Fourth, but throughout the year.”
Krickus said the appearance of both U.S. representatives who serve parts of Morris County — Democrat Mikie Sherril (11th Dist.) and Republican Tom Kean Jr. (7th Dist.) — showed we can come together, he said.
De Gregorio said as much in his remarks, saying it is the best way to honor the memory of those lost because of the attacks: 2,996 on 9/11 and the 7,078 who died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Much has been written about our response: Was it right? Was it necessary? Was it fruitful?” he asked those gathered. “Tonight, we are not here to debate the things that tear us apart. Tonight, we remember those who we loved and lost, with the hope that, even if just for a few fleeting moments, the deepening divisions of our society might be healed by the realization that none of those who died would have wished to see us bicker and fray.”
Then he delivered a closing line that we all should never forget.
“I can’t help but think how great this country could be if we could all just find ourselves back on top of that lookout point and realize that all we need right now is each other,” he said.