By Jonathan Lai Philadelphia Inquirer
None of its residents were killed that day, and no direct ties with the devastating attacks are evident. The small Gloucester County borough of Clayton would seem an unlikely place for a September 11 memorial.
But at a small dedication ceremony on a splendid Saturday morning, borough officials and residents expressed the same sentiments: The effects of the attacks were profound, and feelings of pain and hope resonate 12 years later.
“This is downtown U.S.A. right here… . A piece of United States history is right here, in your downtown,” Gloucester County Freeholder Giuseppe “Joe” Chila said during the ceremony.
Just yards from the Veterans Remembrance Memorial, set up in 2009, outside the borough hall on Route 47, its focal point is a 40-pound piece of steel from the targeted World Trade Center, in New York City, held on top of two black granite blocks.
It is roughly four feet tall and evokes the image of the Twin Towers, rising from a base of the same dark, polished stone.
At about 1,000 pounds total, sculptor Ed Knorr said, the piece took about 60 hours to complete over two months.
“The steel in this memorial is a symbol not only of the destruction wrought but the strength born” that day, said Peter D. Hutcheon, a member of the Clayton Veterans’ Remembrance Inc., the committee behind the memorial.
“May the steel in this memorial strengthen our dedication and resolve,” Hutcheon said.
Committee chairman Gene Costill told a personal story of tragedy, drawing parallels to families’ post-9/11 struggles.
Costill’s brother Harold was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor; his body was either not recovered or not identified. He has been listed as missing in action for almost 72 years. Costill’s mother never gave up hope, he said, and he sees the painful struggle between hope and grief echoed today in the families of those who lost loved ones on 9/11.
“This brings back a lot,” Costill, 88, who was a teenager when Pearl Harbor happened, said after the ceremony. “It’s a disastrous thing, but it’s not the end.”
Memorials juxtapose the desire to keep alive memories that can be painful and that to provide support to help survivors move on. That ambivalence was reflected at Saturday’s ceremony, which was largely solemn but had brief moments of levity and a presentation of medals to World War II veteran Melvin Owens.
And, a few speakers noted, the gorgeous weather was similar to that of September 11, 2001.
Twelve years later, much has changed, Hutcheon said, citing airport security lines and a greater sense of vulnerability. But some may have forgotten. Others are too young.
“It’s a dozen years. You start to find people who don’t really know what 9/11 is,” Hutcheon said, worrying that a generation is growing up not knowing the events of that day. “Time has a way of leading us to forget… . I’d like them to know what happened.”