NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> Former Governor Mark Schweiker will be the keynote speaker at a Sept. 11th observance on Friday evening, September 10th at Newtown’s Pickering Field.

Schweiker, a Bucks County native, was serving as Lt. Governor when the unthinkable happened. He responded to Shanksville not long after Flight 93 crashed in western Pennsylvania.

“September 11th is very personal and very emotional to him,” said John Burke, who is organizing the special evening. “He went to Pennsylvania’s Ground Zero and he saw with his own eyes the destruction. He was there. He was part of it. He lived it. And he’s going to speak to us on the eve of the 20th commemoration.”

Schweiker became the 44th Governor of Pennsylvania less than a month after 9-11 when Governor Tom Ridge resigned to become Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush.

The Newtown observance, which begins at 6 p.m., will honor the community’s first responders on the eve of the 20th year commemoration of the 9-11 terror attacks.

“The idea is just to stop and pause and pump the brakes a little from the world while we remember the first responders who ran into the towers 20 years ago and our own first responders who serve our community every day,” said Burke.

The community’s first responders, including the Newtown Ambulance Squad, the Newtown Police Department and the Newtown Fire Association have been invited to attend.

“Believe it or not it’s been 20 years since that horrible day,” said Burke of the terrorist attack on America that killed 2977 people, including 265 on four hijacked planes, 2,606 at the World Trade Center in New York and 125 at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Of the 2,977 victims killed, 412 were emergency workers in New York City who responded to the World Trade Center, including 343 firefighters from the New York City Fire Department; 37 police officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department; 23 police officers from the New York City Police Department; eight emergency medical technicians; and one New York Fire Patrolman.

The special evening will include welcoming remarks, reading of the names of the Bucks Countians who died that day, recognition of the first responders and the Governor’s remarks.

“It’s going to be real simple. It’s just about bringing the community together, saying thank you to our first responders and giving everyone a sense of peace and an opportunity to gather together,” said Burke. “It’s not a rally. It’s a remembrance. Come absorb the peacefulness and then go back into the community and keep that mindset alive.”

The evening will also include the presentation of a check by Burke and Mick Petrucci to the Newtown area Shop With A Cop, a national program that pairs local officers with youngsters for a pre-holiday shopping experience like no other.

For the fourth year, the Newtown Township, Newtown Borough, Upper Makefield and Northampton Township Police departments will be taking part in the early December event in conjunction with the Middletown Community Foundation and with the help and assistance of District Judge Petrucci.

Shop With A Cop typically provides each child with a $150 gift card to purchase gifts for themselves and their family members. The kids are then joined on their holiday shopping spree by police officers from the three municipalities.

The magic that unfolds in the aisles and checkout lines at the Target store is priceless, not just for the child but also for the cops who get to be part of something really special.

The check to be presented by Burke on Sept. 10th is from money raised by the sale of luminary kits, which Burke hopes will light the streets of the borough following the ceremony. 

The donation will also include proceeds from a commemorative 20th anniversary 9-11 Challenge Coin designed by Petrucci and sold through the Newtown Rotary Club.

“If everyone lights their luminaries prior to going to the remembrance it will be dark when everyone goes home and the hope is all the luminaries will be lighting their way home,” said Burke. “It will be nice and peaceful and kind of ground people with everything going on in the world.”

Luminary kits are still available for purchase at the Newtown Hardware House for $20 each. The kits include 10 candles, bags, candles and sand.

“The response to the luminaries has been good,” said Burke, noting that altogether he expects to sell more than 100 kits. “And it doesn’t have to be just in the borough. I have three neighborhoods in the township that will be participating.”

Burke, who is originally from Long Island, said he was strongly motivated to organize the event by his own personnel connections to Sept. 11, 2001.

Twenty years ago, Burke was in New York City when the unthinkable happened.

While he was doing a preceptorship at Mount Sinai Hospital in up town, two jets were hijacked and flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in the lower end of Manhattan.

“I came out of the elevator (at Mount Sinai) and it was complete chaos at 9:15 in the morning” just moments after the planes struck the towers, he said. “People were running around. And we didn’t know what was happening.”

Burke and his crew had to walk 40 blocks back to their hotel in Midtown. “The trains were stopped and you couldn’t get on anything.

“As we walked all you could see is the billowing black smoke coming out of the towers,” said Burke. “It was very scary. It was very surreal. And we were freaking out. There were jets flying over. We didn’t know what was next,” he said. 

“There was no communication. Cell phones weren’t working. It was complete chaos,” he said. 

Burke ended up being struck in the city for the next two days. “All we had was the TV and alcohol,” he said.

Burke’s father, “Jack,” had also helped build the towers in the early 70s as a New York City ironworker with Local 580, which adds another layer to his personal connection to that day.

And one of Burke’s friends, a former iron worker who became a New York City firefighter, also lost his life on September 11th, 2001 in the collapse of the towers.

“I’d like everyone to take a brief moment this year to remember all those people who ran into the buildings as others  were running out,” said Burke.

“It takes a special person to take an oath to serve and protect someone else,” said Burke. “Whether you’re a doctor, a nurse, a firefighter, a police officer, you’re saying that someone else’s life is more important than yours and even though I don’t know you I’m going to help you. That’s a special person.

“I know at Christmastime everyone lights up their streets (with luminaries) and it looks beautiful,” said Burke. “So I’m hoping September 11th will be another beautiful evening in the community and everything will be lit up. It’s for a good cause and we can remember those who gave their lives and celebrate those who protect and serve.”

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