NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> In powerful, and sometimes very emotional remarks delivered on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, former Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker condemned the architect of the attack for killing close to 3,000 people and called on all Americans to “never forget” the events of that day.
Schweiker, who was the Lt. Governor at the time of the attacks and was at the Flight 93 crash site in western Pennsylvania that day, was the keynote speaker at a 9/11 remembrance event held at Pickering Field honoring first responders who died on 9/11 and those serving the community today.
Schweiker, who became governor a month after 9/11 when President George W. Bush appointed then Governor Tom Ridge to head the newly-created Department of Homeland Security, remembered back to that day 19 years ago when passengers aboard Flight 93 took matters into their own hands and became first responders in the War on Terror.
“They had coffee pots. They had hot water. They had a food cart. And they had American heart and soul and said they will stop this if they can,” he said his voice cracking with emotion.
More than 200 turned out to hear the former Governor and to publicly thank the community’s first responders for the jobs they do to protect and to serve.
“We’re here to remember. We’re here to thank. We’re here to honor. And we’re here to help,” said event organizer John Burke, in opening up the special evening. “In my mind those are pretty good things to build a community on.
“Hopefully by the time you leave here tonight you’ll have that in your memory. As you walk down the streets and see the beautifully lit sidewalks you’ll have that great feeling inside you. Keep it,” he said. “Because we need it.”
It was 19 years ago on a beautiful Tuesday morning that terrorists launched an attack against America that killed close to 3,000 people in New York City, Washington, D.C., and at the crash site of Flight 93 in western Pennsylvania.
“We wanted to bring the community together to stop and pause and take an evening to remember,” said Burke. “Remember those first responders who gave all on Sept. 11th, on that terrible day 19 years ago.”
Of the 2,977 victims on Sept. 11th, 412 were emergency workers, including 343 firefighters from the Fire Department of New York, 37 were police offices from the Port Authority of New York and the New Jersey Police Department, 23 were police officers from the New York City Police Department, eight were emergency medical technicians and paramedics and one was a patrolman from the New York Fire Patrol.
“We also wanted to thank all our first responders who serve our community today,” said Burke. “It takes a special person who makes it their life’s work to selflessly go out every day and put their lives on the line, leave their families to help others. It’s greatly appreciated,” he said to applause.
“Yes, thank them please,” said Burke encouraging more applause for the members of the Newtown Ambulance Squad, Newtown Borough and Newtown Township Police Departments, the Newtown Fire Association and the Newtown Emergency Services who had gathered on the field for the special evening.
Newtown veteran Skip Scarborough officially opened the evening by leading the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. And the Rev. Samuel Massengill from the Newtown Presbyterian Church offered a prayer remembering those who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard United Airlines Flight 93 and the courageous men and women who risked their lives to protect and save lives that day.
As a bell tolled, the names of the 18 people from Bucks County who lost their lives on Sept. 11th were read aloud, their names forever remembered and linked to the tragedy of that day. Two of them were aboard Flight 93 that crashed in western Pennsylvania after passengers fought back against the terrorists who had hijacked the plane.
“That group of 40 individuals - 33 passengers and seven crew members - who walked the gang plank of Terminal A Gate 17 at Newark believing they were headed to San Francisco and flew right into our American hearts - died in Shanksville, probably knowing they were ready to knock down that cockpit door using a food cart,” Schweiker told the gathering.
“I see them as the first all volunteer first responder military unit who said they will not stand for this,” he said in very emotional remarks. “It’s a remarkable choice they made.”
Schweiker didn’t mince words when speaking of KSM, otherwise known as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was named in the 9/11 Commission Report as the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.
“We often talk about Osama Bin Laden, but we don’t talk about the engineer of it all who in 1995 - and he has acknowledged this again and again and in so doing spits in your face as Americans - said, ‘We were going to take the Satan of America down.’ He is a vile, violent, diabolical killer of Americans. Yet we sit here on this night waiting to try someone who in a matter of hours took the lives of nearly 3,000 people. And he’s even at times, in some of those proceedings, written down the numbers of the four planes that hit, turned it into a paper airplane and blew it toward some of the family members.
“If you need any confirmation that your civic-mindedness and your compulsion to be here tonight to reflect on the blue skies of America and to acknowledge these first responders, think not of Osama Bin Laden, who met his maker, but KSM who spits in America’s face.”
When the first plane struck the World Trade Center, Schweiker was driving east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. By the time he reached King of Prussia the second plane had struck the towers and protocol required him to return to Harrisburg.
When Flight 93 crashed, in his capacity as chair of the state’s emergency management agency he was sent to western Pennsylvania where he witnessed the aftermath of the crash, the smoke rising from the blackened crashed site.
“I think of those volunteer responders. I think of FBI agents literally on their hands and feet combing the ground for forensic evidence. I think of the mounted patrols of the Pennsylvania State Police patrolling the parameter, which at some points grew to 70 acres wide because there was nothing left, perhaps nothing bigger than a notebook and some of the pieces of the engines, but that’s it. The plane was eviscerated.
“On that day in Shanksville, there was overwhelming grief,” said Schweiker. “When the families arrived, it was one of the most powerful and emotional moments of survivors that I’ve ever witnessed. It is sacred ground. And right now, even though you can’t hear it in eastern Pennsylvania, there’s the Tower of Voices which is 93 feet tall for United Flight 93 with 40 chimes for the 40 passengers. And the idea is we want the world to know that their patriotic voices were not silenced, ever. It naturally chimes again and again.
“And you good folks, choosing to start your weekend here, does our hearts some good to know you’ve not forgotten,” Schweiker continued. “So as we gather tonight, like the storytellers of old, you must become the storytellers.”
Schweiker, who still does a little bit of work in the Homeland Security Department At Rider University, told the gathering that young people merely see 9-11 as a history note. “They don’t realize how many people died that day. They don’t realize 58 Pennsylvania children lost parents that day. It was a fateful day.
“This is why we are here. It’s about reflection and a monumental sacrifice that few people are expected to perform, but they did. This isn’t a video movie. This isn’t YouTube. This isn’t a creation. This happened,” he said. “And God help us if we ever forget how significant of a day it was when these terrorists decided your way of life had to stop.”
In closing his remarks, the former Governor noted that it was in the skies above Pennsylvania that the first counter attack against Islamic-defined terrorism against the United States of America occurred by 40 people. “And I believe, as I stand here today, that you’re ready to tell the world and a country that we have never forgotten.”
Following applause for the former Governor and his words, Burke invited Newtown Township Police Corporal Paul Deppi to the stage for a special presentation.
In the weeks leading up to the Sept. 11th event, Burke sold luminary kits to residents throughout the borough in support of Shop With A Cop and with the idea of lining the sidewalks in Newtown Borough on Sept. 11th in memory and in honor of first responders.
“It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It was exhausting, but it was phenomenal. And it was because of you. It was just amazing,” said Burke.
Burke then joined Paul Salvatore and Bernie Sauer in presenting a check for $5,120 to Deppi and Shop With A Cop from the people of Newtown.
Shop With A Cop is a national program that pairs local officers with youngsters for a pre-holiday shopping experience like no other.
Last year more than 60 elementary and early middle school children from the Council Rock School District who are facing life challenges, including a parent losing a job, tragedy, homelessness, military deployment, economic shortcomings, and other hardships, benefited from the program.
The ceremony concluded with a video recounting of the events of that day by Arnold Roma, a former patrolman, who responded to the World Trade Center.
Roma, who was in the lobby of the South Tower when it collapsed, survived, but he lost his son, New York Fire patrolman Keith Roma who saved the lives of more than 200 before perishing in the collapse of the North Tower.
“When you think of those people on September 11th who charged into the towers to save lives and the people who charged the cockpit aboard Flight 93, they were heroes. John 15 says, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ And that’s what they did,” said Paul Salvatore.
“And when you look over here at these gentlemen,” gesturing toward the first responders, “they are always there for us. They are willing to serve us and to put their lives on the line for us. I want to challenge you today to go out and make a difference. And if you see a man or woman in uniform, whether they are fire, police, EMS or military, simply walk up to them and say thank you.”
The event was attended by U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, State Rep. Perry Warren, Newtown Township Supervisor Kyle Davis, Newtown Borough Mayor Charles Swartz, Newtown Borough Council President Tara Grunde-McLaughlin among others.