Township leaders, residents and emergency responders came together Tuesday afternoon to remember the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
A special ceremony at served as the unveiling of an addition to the town's 9/11 memorial: a piece of an actual steel beam that was part of the World Trade Center, whose towers were toppled by airplanes taken over by terrorists on one of the nation's darkest days.
Mayor James Barberio, in his remarks, said that the event was about mourning the nearly 3,000 people lost 11 years ago Tuesday and about reflecting on what the tragedy had to teach us.
"We stand in unity renewing the lessons that we learned on Sept. 11 about patriotism and tolerance," he said. "Our determination to send the message that the United States will not fall to the forces of evil and hatred continues to be heard."
The event began with a solemn procession by the color guards of and the , followed by an invocation by Msgr. Herbert Tillyer of .
The centerpiece of the commemoration was a keynote address by Parsippany resident . The former Secret Service special agent and emergency medical technician recounted his experiences as a survivor of both the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
Recalling the event 11 years ago, Letts talked of how he used what he learned from his 1993 experience to lead people in the WTC's north tower to safety.
"I positioned myself at the bottom of the west stairwell and directed evacuees to the escalator on the east side...where the Port Authority officer guided them to the relative safety of the underground concourse," he said. "We had a plan, and for the next 70 minutes, that's what we did. I recall that those who exited my stairwell were calm and resolute, and I witnessed countless acts of compassion and bravery."
Letts recalled then assisting paramedics in locating first aid supplies and talked of watching the south tower collapse.
"As we began our frantic run down 47 flights of stairs, we had no way of knowing that the north tower would collapse in just 29 minutes," he said. "We fought our way through heavy smoke and darkness and when we finally emerged onto Vesey Street, it was a scene of complete devastation.
"It was beyond surreal."
Letts recognized the courage and generosity of responders from many states—"including many who are here today"—who put their lives on the line to save as many people at the WTC as they could, and "who give of themselves every day." He also honored the nation's veterans and the members of Navy Seal Team 6, "which gave a bit of American justice to Osama bin Laden."
"I ask each and every one of you to find a way, any way, to serve others," he told the crowd in attendance. "Our nation faces one of the most significant challenges in its history and whether we're able to survive largely depends on whether its people are willing to give more of themselves."
After the playing of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" and Bruce Springsteen's 9/11 anthem, "My City of Ruins," Rabbi Ronald Kaplan of offered a benediction that referred to the bit of steel that survived the 2001 attacks.
"Human beings are frail," he said, "but like steel ... we can be strong."
With that, the new memorial was unveiled and Rabbi Kaplan blew the Jewish shofar, a ram's horn usually used during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur High Holidays.
The steel beam was obtained with the assistance of Parsippany resident Taran Ayaz, who works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and was a 9/11 responder.