NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> On Friday evening, September 11th an event will take place at Newtown’s Pickering Field to honor the community’s first responders.

“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 19 years ago and our own first responders who serve our community every day,” said organizer John 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 19 days 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 begins with music from 6 to at 6:30 p.m. followed by welcoming remarks by Burke at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s going to be real simple - I don’t have fireworks, I don’t have anyone going to give a fiery speech. It’s not going to be a jammed packed event where we’re entertaining everybody. 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.”

Once it gets dark enough, a 10 minute video will be shown sharing the story of a retired New York City firefighter and his son who responded to the burning towers of the World Trade Center.

“It’s an amazing and touching story,” said Burke. “He went into Tower One and his son, a New York City firefighter, entered Tower Two. Both towers collapsed on them.”

The evening will also include the presentation of a check by Burke to the Newtown Township and Newtown Borough police departments in support of the Shop With A Cop, 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.

For the third year, the Newtown Township, Newtown Borough and Upper Makefield 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 Mick 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. 11th is from money raised by the sale of luminary kits, which Burke hopes will light the streets of the borough following the ceremony.

“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.”

Burke personally thanked the Newtown Hardware House for assisting with the project by helping to order, stock and prepackage the kits. “I can’t say enough about them. They have been great,” he said.

“The response to the luminaries has far exceeded my expectations,” added Burke, noting that altogether he expects to sell more than 200 kits. “We will triple what I was hoping and we’ll be able to make a nice donation to Shop With A Cop.”

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.

Nineteen 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 hijacked jets were purposely 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.”

While Burke said the Newtown Republican Committee is providing insurance coverage for the event, the evening will be non-political.

Burke said everyone who attends will be asked to observe social distancing and to wear masks when in close proximity.

“People aren’t going to leave saying, ‘That was the greatest thing I’ve ever done,’” said Burke. “I want people to walk out of there and say, ‘Wow. I feel good.’ I think we’re lacking that sense of community right now. It’s not just COVID. It’s been happening for years. People are more transient. They move into a neighborhood. They move out of a neighborhood. For this one night, let’s just walk up to Pickering, enjoy the surroundings and enjoy the evening together.”

For information about the event or to inquire about luminaries, contact John Burke at john.burke79@yahoo.com.

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