By Tara Renee Settembre
(Photo Credit: Kimberlee Hewitt)
One block north of Ground Zero, as the city's church bells tolled in the background, hundreds gathered for a noon Interfaith Remembrance Service at St. Peter’s Church in Lower Manhattan on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2004
The service, at New York state’s oldest Catholic parish, which only three years before was covered with dust inside and out, honored the Port Authority employees who were killed that day.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey lost 84 of its members in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Three years later their memories are far from forgotten.
Among the crowd were family and friends of the victims, Port Authority police, firemen, as well as strangers paying tribute.
Before the service began, the St. Peter’s Church Choir performed patriotic musical selections, while many men and women in uniform bowed their heads in front of a blue banner displayed at the altar, which listed the names of the fallen men and women. Inscribed at the top of the banner was the following message: “We honor all those who distinguished themselves before the world on behalf of the Port Authority.” Two similar but larger banners were draped over the balcony in the back of the church.
As guests entered the church they shook hands with friends, patted each other on the back and extended warm greetings. People told stories of their 9/11 experiences, taking comfort in each other’s shared horrors. A couple of families wore t-shirts depicting the faces of the loved ones they lost.
The ceremony opened with the Port Authority Police Honor Guard marching down the center aisle, brandishing the American flag as well as New York and New Jersey’s state flags, while Port Authority Police Pipes & Drums played “America the Beautiful."
Rev. Kevin V. Madigan, the Pastor of St. Peter’s Church welcomed his visitors, saying “The terrorists took the person but they cannot take the love.”
Seated in the front pew were New York Governor George Pataki, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Governor Pataki of New York, the only politician to speak at the event who was also in office during Sept. 11, thanked the Port Authority on behalf of America. He described the victim's heroism by saying how successful they were at evacuating people from the Towers and at leading FDNY and NYPD through the buildings.
“They saved tens of thousands of lives in just 90 minutes. They saved lives, even as they gave lives. They rose, even though the towers fell,” said Governor Pataki.
New York’s Mayor Bloomberg echoed the same sentiment saying, “They [the Port Authority workers] charged into the building, went back again, and again. Normal people run away from danger these people ran towards it.”
“We stand united in resolve and grief," said Mayor Bloomberg. "We owe it to them to unite in defiance against terrorism.”
New Jersey Governor McGreevey also spoke of the deceased’s heroism and added that, “as a community we should all aspire to their service, their love.”
Standing at the podium amongst bouquets of flowers, Port Authority Commissioner Christy Ferer Levin whose husband Neil Levin, Port Authority Executive Director, was killed on 9/11 offered words of comfort to the assembly. Levin spoke of continuing her husband’s work at Port Authority and the comfort of being part of the Port Authority family.
Valerie Webb of Jersey City, N.J., daughter of departed Port Authority Police Officer Nathaniel Webb lit two candles in a tribute during a moment of silence. One candle was for the uniformed loved ones that were killed and the other candle was for everyone else who died.
Among the mourners was Norma Manigan, Director of Public Affairs for the Port Authority, who knew and worked with several of the staff that died on Sept. 11.
“I thought the ceremony was appropriate,” said Manigan. “We want people to remember, we don’t want people to forget or to get used to the fact that 2,749 people died, that’s something you should never get used to.”