By Steve Strunsky The Star-Ledger
NEW YORK — After the world tuned in today to the annual roll call at Ground Zero for the nearly 3,000 people who died in the September 11 terror attacks, a more intimate memorial was held inside a church a few blocks away.
The afternoon service attended by about 300 people at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church honored the 84 Port Authority of New York and New Jersey employees who died that day 11 years ago.The collective loss has made rebuilding the World Trade Center site and securing the region’s ports, airports, bridge’s and tunnels a very personal mission for the 6,777 members of the Port Authority family. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano listened from a pew as agency chairman David Samson said that despite the agency’s progress in redeveloping the trade center site, “We at the Port Authority are still not whole.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said survivors would “never forget the courage and the heroism” shown that day.
The names of the Port Authority’s 9/11 victims, as well as those of six others who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, were displayed on a large screen at the front of the church. They included 47 civilian employees working at the agency’s trade center headquarters, plus 37 members of the Port Authority Police Department who were assigned there or responded to the attacks.
“I knew them all,” said officer Steve Butterbrodt, 64, of Matawan, a 39-year veteran of the department, who arrived at the scene on his day off that Tuesday morning just as the first tower was collapsing.
Butterbrodt is a veteran bagpiper with the Port Authority Police Pipes and Drums, which played as many as five funerals a day for several weeks following the attacks. He and fellow bagpipers were back in their blue plaid kilts today, opening the memorial service with an arrangement of God Bless America.
Like New York City firefighters and Cantor Fitzgerald employees, Port Authority staffers who survived the attack forged an unusually strong bond.
“We got a lot closer after that,” Butterbrodt said. “It’s up to us here now to make sure nobody forgets.”
Kayla Bergeron, a former Port Authority spokeswoman, was close to the agency’s executive director, Neil Levin, who died in the attack while she survived. She said returning for the memorial service each year from her home in Florida lets her be among people to whom she doesn’t have to explain what happened or what it was like to live through that day.
“They know,” Bergeron said. “Just being around these people is very cathartic.”