MIDLAND PARK SUBURBAN NEWS
With an emotional display of respect and gratitude, the Midland Park Fire Department unveiled a 9/11 Memorial Garden on Sunday, Oct. 14.
Photo: Firefighters saluting during the ceremony Oct. 14 dedicating the 9/11 Memorial Garden, which is anchored by a 2,800-pound steel beam salvaged from the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Some 200 people gathered at the fire house on Witte Drive for the dedication. The department's fully-extended ladder truck draped a black veil over the memorial that had taken four years of planning and volunteer effort to pull together.
Pausing several times to keep his emotions in check, Fire Chief Mark Berninger Sr. pointed out fellow firefighters and emergency responders who were among the nearly 3,000 who perished in the terrorist attacks.
Berninger explained that borough officials had written to the Port Authority four years ago asking for a piece of the World Trade Center wreckage to use as the base for a memorial. When they received a small cardboard box with a piece of steel beam that could be held in one hand, Berninger said, he wondered what they would do with it.
"I thought, 'How are we going to display this so people can see it?' " he said. "We went through the same process again. But this time, we asked for something more substantial."
Berninger recounted how members of the fire department and the borough's DPW went to Hanger 17 at JFK Airport in May 2011 to retrieve the steel beam from one of the towers. It measures 80 inches by 20 inches by 30 inches, still showing signs of exposure to fire.
"You can tell it broke off," he said of the 2,800-pound piece of steel beam. "It wasn't cut."
"We could have rushed the process and made it ready for the 10-year anniversary last year, but we wanted to do it right," said Berninger. "If it weren't for Jacobsen Landscaping and all the other landscapers who put in work, volunteering their time and in many instances, being reimbursed only for the materials, this project would have cost us $50,000 to $60,000 more than it did."
Mayor Patrick "Bud" O'Hagan described the process of building the memorial as a "mini miracle," noting that those who contributed toward building it were not interested in advertising themselves, but in commemorating those who sacrificed their lives that day.
Glenn Jacobsen, owner of Jacobsen Landscaping, said his employee, Mark Milidantri, deserved "sole credit" for the design and coordination of the contractors who installed the brick pavers and three benches and erected the large piece of steel 9 feet, 11-inches high off the monument area, tilting and facing it toward lower Manhattan.
An iron rail monument previously erected to honor fallen firefighters remains, but has been moved to one side to make way for the new memorial.
"We're proud to do business in this town," said Jacobsen. "And we're proud to be associated with this town."
Fire department chaplain Rod Gorter said memorials play an important role in people's personal lives, bringing to mind his own father who was killed in an accident when he was just 4 years old.
"He served in Korea only to be killed in a tractor accident when he pushed my brothers out of the way, sacrificing himself," said Gorter.
And yet, there are positive things that emerge from such tragedy, said Gorter. "It is a memorial that reminds us of how we can come together as a nation, honoring those who have served us, and yet reminding us not to repeat the past."
Ray Adementz, a former Midland Park firefighter, played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes as the black veil was lifted, exposing the beam.
Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan applauded the town, saying that a photo of the monument would join other local memorials at the executive headquarters in Hackensack. She recalled a fellow worker from the Port Authority who began his day in his office in the Trade Center and was coming to meet her for lunch that day. He never made it, dying in the rubble of the towers, she said.
Members of the audience shared other memories privately. Girl Scout leader Lena Padavano recalled her husband, Steve, worked for a Canadian bank based in the Trade Center and had to run from the falling debris as the towers came down.
"It was a tough day," Padavano said.
"I think it's cool we're doing this," said Lena's daughter, Emily, a member of Girl Scout Troop 558.
Fifteen Girl Scouts with different troops assisted at the event, handing out programs and setting up refreshments inside the fire hall for a gathering after the ceremony.
Berninger recognized John Roberto, the only Midland Park resident to have died in the towers that day.
Samantha Shaffer sang the national anthem and "God Bless America," encouraging the crowd to sing with her. Afterwards, handshakes and hugs welcomed people inside where Berninger greeted the public and reflected on the days leading up to the ceremony.
"It's been a whirlwind this last month," he said. "But it was short and sweet, void of politics, just how it needed to be."