NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> On the eve of Sept. 11th, former Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker called on the nation to “never forget” the events of that day and to “tell the stories” of the victims so future generations won’t forget.
Schweiker, who was the Lt. Governor at the time of the attacks and was sent to the Flight 93 crash site in western Pennsylvania to oversee emergency management operations, was the keynote speaker at a 9-11 remembrance event held at Pickering Field in Newtown honoring first responders, including those 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 Tom Ridge to head of the newly-created Department of Homeland Security, remembered back to that day 20 years ago when passengers aboard Flight 93 took matters into their own hands and became first responders in the War on Terror.
Twenty years ago, the war against terrorism literally began in the skies above western Pennsylvania, he said.
Armed with only coffee pots and plastic knives, the passengers and crew of the hijacked airliner fought back against their attackers, said Schweiker, saving countless lives in the US Capital, the believed destination of the hijackers.
“In my mind it was the most remarkable, quasi-military force the country has ever mounted, all in a matter of minutes, between central Ohio and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That’s what we have to remember and contemplate.”
Schweiker also noted that the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the attack’s masterminds, has begun.
“Think of the death count - close to 3,000 in one day on 9-11. You think about the first responders who worked on the pile after the towers fell,” said Schweiker. “Over 2500 have already perished from those aggressive cancers that followed their intake of that toxic environment. They expect it to be 10,000. It might even reach 400,000. Then you add in 7,000 men and women who died in the War on Terror and the 13 killed two weeks ago there has been a terrible toll that KSM has exacted on this country. And yet he still lives.
“The American judicial system must begin to work its obligatory accountability magic and soon,” he said. “They owe it to the families. They owe it to America. It was the second bloodiest day in the history of our Republic. He was apprehended in Pakistan in 2003. It’s 2021.
“We don’t celebrate what happened on 9–11. This is a memorial ceremony. This is somber. This is respectful. This is what you do for the fighting dead ... They want to take liberty from you. These American-hating terrorists are motivated by blood on the streets. They wanted to fight. They wanted the carnage. They wanted the destruction.”
Schweiker closed his remarks by transporting the gathering to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville and to the Tower of Voices, a momumental, 93 foot tall musical instrumentholding 40 wind chimes, represtenting the 40 passengers and crew members of Flight 93.
“Some describe it as the largest musical instrument in the world,” said Schweiker. “The 40 chimes represent the 40 silenced voices like Todd Beamer who uttered those words, ‘Let’s Roll.’ You talk about determination, fortitude, guts and courage. That group of 40 personified it.
“Even though it’s a melodic sound, it’s the sound of their loved ones - a son, a father, daughter, a wife, a husband. If you listen very closely, not just with your ears, but with your hearts, you can hear Deora Bodley say, ‘Be my storyteller.’ You would hear Victor Saracini say, ‘Tell our story.’
“That’s why we’re here. And if you do, you know the notes. Never forget what happened. Never forget the sacrifice. Never forget the purity of that sacrifice because it was for you and your ability to be here tonight as free Americans. I see it as noble work. Maybe you will be their storyteller.”
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.
Friday’s remembrance was organized by Newtown Borough resident John Burke who was in New York City 20 years ago and wanted to commemorate the milestone and recognize the community’s first responders.
“Twenty years ago the unthinkable happened. Innocent lives were lost. And as a result tens of thousands of lives were changed forever,” said Burke. “I was in New York City that terrible day and I made myself a promise to never forget. And I will never forget.
“Tonight’s about getting together and remembering those we lost on that tragic day,” said Burke. “If you ever watched the documentaries about 9-11 there’s a common theme. Almost every person interviewed have this unbelievable, positive focus. And they still to this day will say the way they continue to heal is by helping others to help themselves. I find that just incredible after what they’ve been through. They could have just as easily put up walls and shut out life and rightfully so, but they don’t. Every year you read a story about someone making someone else’s life better.”
Last year, when the pandemic hit, Burke said it gave everyone the opportunity to help others and to thank others. “At this time more than ever we need to remember those who died on 9-11 and to never forget and to always help someone else in honor of all those people,” said Burke.
The ceremony opened with the National Anthem, a musket salute by reenactors from Crossing Community Church and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Newtown veteran Skip Scarborough.
Pastor Tim Smith from the Crossing Community Church offered an invocation 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.
“We’re here to remember those who ran into danger 20 years ago - all those first responders who willingly chose to run to the aid of others in need and to those who could not help themselves,” said Smith. “We’re here to remember that they ran into harm’s way instead of running from it, their courage, their great sacrifice. They didn’t sacrifice their safety to rescue family or loved ones, they responded to people people with no names, faces full of terror, strangers they never met. We’re also here to remember the famines who lost loved ones that day.”
Echoing the theme for the evening, Mayor Charles “Corky” Swartz asked the community “to remember all who died on September 11th, honor all veterans who sacrificed for our freedom and to remember the residents who make the borough a better place, including our former police chief, the late Anthony Wojciechowski.
“We also need to recognize the men and women of our Armed Forces who serve and protect our country,” said the mayor. “We need to recognize our police officers who keep our community safe. And we need to recognize all the men and women of the Newtown Fire Association, the Newtown Emergency Services and the Newtown Ambulance Squad who provide fire and medical services.”
Burke then joined District Judge Mick Petrucci and the Newtown Rotary Club, represented by Kyle Davis and Paul Salvatore, in presenting a check for $10,000 to the Newtown Area Shop With a Cop program from the sale of 20th year challenge coins and from the sale of luminary kits.
In the weeks leading up to the Sept. 10th event, Burke sold luminary kits in support of Shop With A Cop and with the idea of lining the sidewalks in Newtown Borough on the eve of Sept. 11th in memory and in honor of the community’s first responders.
In addition, the Newtown Rotary Club sold challenge coins designed by Petrucci commemorating the 20th year observance of the 9-11 attacks.
Newtown Township Police Corporal Paul Deppi was on hand to accept the donation for Shop With A Cop, which pairs police officers with childrenin a pre-holiday shopping spree.
“This is a venture we started four years ago throughout Council Rock,” said Petrucci. “We had an idea that would leave an impact on people in need within our community and bridge the gap between our local law enforcement. That idea is Shop With A Cop. We had a great first year and have never looked back. In fact, last year, in the middle of a pandemic, we were able to raise $121,000 and we helped over 500 local families in need throughout Council Rock and Neshaminy.”
Following the check presentation, Erin Burke, TJ Blancato and Nathan Breece joined Burke on stage to remember the 18 Bucks County residents who died on 9-11.
As a bell tolled, the names of the 18 were read aloud by Burke, Blancato and Breece.
The names will forever be 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. Sixteen were at work at the World Trade Center when the unthinkable happened.
“They got up, went to work and never came home,” said Salvatore. “We also thank our first responders who we know will rush into a building if we need them.
“You may also notice there are 13 flags” in front of the stage. “They are for the 13 brave soldiers who died in an act of evil in Afghanistan. It’s no different than what happened 20 years ago. Evil will find a way to strike. We just have to be prepared to fight back because freedom isn’t free. Somebody paid for it.”
The ceremony concluded peacefully with a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace and Newtown firefighters Warren Dallas and Rory LaRosa lighting a pair of twin candles sitting on a table next to a firefighter’s helmet.