“We all remember where we were,” Union City’s Poet Laureate Ben Figueroa said to the crowd gathered at Liberty Plaza on Tuesday. “People tell me it was the same way with the moon landing….they called it the defining moment of their generation. So if entire generations are defined by moments, then what does it mean when a tragedy forms the outline of yours?”
That Tuesday began with the same eerily clear weather as Tuesday in 2001 did, not a cloud in the sky, and a strange sense of quiet. It marked the eleventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy when Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes and drove them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, and because of the heroism of several passengers on the fourth plane, into an empty field in Pittsburg, Pa.
“Let this not be a day of mourning, but a celebration of our unbreakable spirit.” – Ben Figueroa
The morning, day, and evening saw several ceremonies through both county and nationwide. At Liberty Plaza in Union City on Palisades Avenue and 30th Street, local officials, residents, and the family of those lost gathered as the sun set to pay their respects and remember.
‘We will never forget’
Leber Funeral Home owner James Leber donated the plaza’s monument on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 last year, inscribed with the names of the five residents who died that day in 2001: Gary Bright (36), Jorge Luis Leon (43), Alejo Perez (66), Nancy E. Perez (36), and David Lemagne (27).
“May they and the 2,824 victims from the World Trade Center, the 125 victims at the Pentagon, and the 42 victims in the southeast of Pittsburg Pa. be remembered as we pause a moment in silence in their memory and in their honor,” Union City’s Police Chaplain S.T. Sutton said. “May God strengthen our resolve as a nation not to allow this tragedy to happen again.”
Mayor Brian Stack – who was joined by several commissioners, members of the Union City Police Department, the high school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps members, and residents – was solemnly succinct.
“Today is not a day for long speeches or any speeches really at all,” Stack said.
Police Chief Brian Barrett read the pledge of allegiance, and Figueroa read his poem.
“Our moment was one of fear, of unfathomable loss, of sheer and utter terror,” Figueroa said, continuing on the notion that 9/11 may be considered the defining moment of his generation. “Does that make that generation great and our generation lost?”
He added, “We will never forget where we were when we heard this news. But let us never forget where we are now, where we are headed, let that moment define us for all the right reasons.”
Magale Lemagne, David Lemagne’s sister, was the ceremony’s final speaker.
“The only thing we can do is not forget exactly what happened on that day,” she said. “Eleven years have passed and it seems like only yesterday I lost my brother, my best friend, and my sibling. This time is very difficult for us, but with memorials like this, this helps us, and it shows us that people still love.”
After Lemagne spoke, an officer rang the silver bell for each of the five Union City residents who lost their lives, and the Jr. ROTC then escorted the Lemagne family to lay a commemorative wreath on the Liberty Plaza monument.
“Let us look to the brilliant strength shown by the families of those who’d fallen that day as an example of what we as a people, as a country, as a generation are capable of,” Figueroa said. “Let this not be a day of mourning, but a celebration of our unbreakable spirit.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com