School Pays Tribute To First Responders

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Members of the N.J. Army National Guard present the colors for the flag salute as the Wardlaw-Hartridge community begins its special commemoration ceremony for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. (Photo by Joanne Vogt of Plainfield)

EDISON — The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison recognized and paid tribute to first responders in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks with a special assembly on Sept. 9.

Students from all three divisions of the K-12 co-educational school joined faculty, staff, family and friends in Laidlaw Gym for a flag salute. The N.J. Army National Guard entered and presented the colors and members of the MaddJazz vocal ensemble sang “America the Beautiful” before a series of speakers shared their reflections and experiences. Students and first responders from the New York City Fire Department, N.J. Army National Guard and Edison Rescue Squad made remarks during an emotional Upper School assembly.

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Margaret Basti, a senior from Staten Island who was instrumental in organizing the commemoration ceremony at Wardlaw-Hartridge, recalled being sent to the Lower Snowdon library as a second grade student 10 years ago. She and her classmates were informed that there had been an accident and everyone waited for their parents to arrive to pick them up. Basti’s parents were in New York City under lockdown and eventually her babysitter arrived. The Basti family, with relatives in NYPD and FDNY, is extremely involved in the First Responder community. Basti said that she cannot forget that “first responders still risk their lives every day.”

Edison Mayor Antonia Ricigliano said that everyone always will remember the moment they first heard about the event. The mayor added that “the terrorists did not diminish our hope, our spirit and our love of freedom” because we are a nation of survivors.

Lieutenant Dennis O’Berg, a member of FDNY who is now retired after more than 30 years of service, shared his vivid recollections of Sept. 11, 2001. He was at the South Tower when it came down and the street and sidewalk were completely engulfed in smoke and dust. O’Berg’s son was a probationary fire fighter who did not survive the collapse of the South Tower and Lt. O’Berg lifted his uniform hat and showed his son’s picture, which is glued inside.

Chief Michael Gala, who had not discussed 9/11 in public since 2002 and declined all other requests, captivated the audience with his story of that fateful day. His company was directed to respond but the first tower had already come down so they could not get through the tunnel and as they were crossing the bridge, the second tower fell. The chief knew they were going to lose many people that day and he stressed the importance of following orders.

After 24 hours at the site, Gala’s company was told to return to Brooklyn. At that point, responders were digging through rubble trying to locate survivors. When Gala told men they were returning, they refused because they needed the sense that they were helping in some way. All joined in digging and they dug until their hands bled.

Despite their best efforts, many men and women lost their lives. The chief, who celebrated 30 years of service last week, said he knew 90 of the 343 firefighters lost.

“We’re still fighting a war on terror,” Gala said. “We’re all in this together.”

Sergeant Pablo Vega, a recruiter for the Army National Guard, did not participate in the 9/11 rescue operations. He had left the service by that time but the events of 9/11 inspired him to rejoin the military.

Captain Neel Mehta, a member of Edison Rescue Squad No. 3, was an 18-year-old in his first day of class as a Rutgers University freshman on 9/11. He had been on the squad for two years and was surprised when his unit was dispatched to the World Trade Center. He was sent to Liberty State Park and later to Giants Stadium, where his unit set up a field hospital. After three days, they found there were very few survivors, which was very frustrating. Mehta stressed the importance of supporting our first responders.

Lian Cancryn, a senior from Plainfield, gave a speech about the school’s girls’ soccer team’s participation in the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. She found it extremely difficult to get through the part of the race in the tunnel, but when she emerged into daylight, Cancryn saw the course lined with bystanders holding up pictures of their loved ones. At that point, Cancryn realized that she was running for the survivors.

Jackie Godusky, the president of Hands for Hope, described the work of her organization and is thankful that Americans – especially New Jerseyans – always respond to tragedy. She has received calls from people who lost everything as a result of Hurricane Irene, which blasted Central Jersey on Aug. 28. Hands for Hope is able to help them due to generosity of people like the W-H community, which has organized a food drive to support those affected by Hurricane Irene.

The Wardlaw-Hartridge School provides assistance to victims of natural disasters, from its own backyard to all the way around the world. In recent years, the school has raised money to support relief efforts in New Orleans, Japan and Haiti.

First responders from FDNY, NYPD and the Edison Rescue Squad join Edison Mayor Antonia Ricigliano and Wardlaw-Hartridge administrators, faculty and students during the Upper School assembly. (Photo by Joanne Vogt of Plainfield)


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