Atlantic City Boardwalk’s moment of silence was complete Tuesday; it was a bright, quiet and still September day after all the summer crowds had left.
Just like on Sept. 11, 2001.
And then with a whirring, a single bright orange Coast Guard appeared in the cloudless sky over Atlantic City, turning and flying out over the Atlantic Ocean. Moments later, the Atlantic City Fire Department’s Sandpipers Pipes and Drums started playing “Amazing Grace.”
Atlantic City commemorated the 11th anniversary of the worse terrorist attack on American soil. The ceremony began a little after 10 a.m. when Atlantic City fire fighter Wardell Johnson, 38, lowered the American flag to half-staff near the resort’s 9/11 memorial. The approximately 5-foot tall twin towers are on the Boardwalk at the Jackson Avenue border between Atlantic City and Ventnor.
Jim Craine, “the singing lifeguard,” brought an Atlantic City touch to the event, singing the national anthem while wearing a tuxedo with a bright red jacket. His voice boomed off of the nearby Vassar Square condominium complex, while the about 150 people who attended the event murmured along with him.
The resort’s event honored Atlantic City natives Victor J. Saracini and John P. O’Neill, who were killed during the 2001 attacks.
Saracini was the captain of United Airlines Flight 175, a Boston-to-Los Angeles flight that was hijacked and flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. O’Neill was the head of security for the office complex, having started there 19 days before the attacks following a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Rich Baker said he knew O’Neill when they were younger. He said, “It breaks my heart. He could have gotten out but went back in there to save people.”
He added, “I have a hard time coming to these things because they bring back so many memories, you know?”
Frank Formica said he knew Saracini’s dad as the “Javelle water” man, selling a kind of a bleach in the resort’s Ducktown neighborhood. Growing up, Formica, now the chairman of the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders, said he and Saracini would play guitar together.
When he went to Holy Spirit High School, Formica said he was on the same track team as O’Neill, whom he remembered as “a nice, quiet guy” who didn’t get into trouble.
“They had no time,” said Don Guardian, director of the Atlantic City Special Improvement Division of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, who led the event. “There was no time. Their lives were snuffed out on what they thought was just another normal day.”
For another generation, Guardian said, the Japanese surprise attack Dec. 7, 1941, was the day of infamy. “For my generation, the day of infamy was 9/11.”
But, he said, in the 11 years since the attack, its mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed, the militant Islamist group al-Qaida appears to be on the decline and terrorism seems to have abated. And next year, the new tower will be open on the World Trade Center site.
In his remarks, Atlantic City Public Safety Director William Glass credited police and fire first responders in keeping the public safe, and encouraged the crowd to pray for them.
Ventnor resident Avery Kelner, 70, was one of several dozen people who were given carnations to place on the memorial after the ceremony. The event, he said, “was really wonderful.”
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