By Donald Wittkowski
Every day, Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio wears a lapel pin given to him by a New York City police captain five years ago.
Framed by a blue ribbon, the miniature pin depicts a police shield, an American flag and a date: 9/11.
Desiderio said it is a solemn reminder of “that terrible day” on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and used them as weapons to attack the United States, killing nearly 3,000 people.
In remembrance of those who lost their lives, Desiderio joined with other local and Cape May County officials Monday to mark the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks during Sea Isle’s annual Patriot Day ceremony.
About 200 members of the public gathered in Veterans Park for a morning of prayer, songs, a wreath laying and somber tributes to the victims of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever on U.S. soil.
Pointing to a recent outbreak of terror attacks around the globe, Desiderio stressed that extremists remain as dangerous as ever. He urged everyone in the crowd to remain vigilant – in essence, to join with police and other authorities as a unified “first line of defense” – to help protect the country from more attacks.
“In short, if we see something, we should say something,” the mayor said.
At the same time, he said Americans can never allow themselves to be intimidated or paralyzed by fear, noting that would only play into the terrorists’ hands.
“We can’t allow terrorist threats to stop us from living or enjoying our lives,” he said. “The terrorists want us to change our way of life.”
Another speaker at the ceremony, Charles “Chick” Haines, the commander of Sea Isle’s VFW Post 1963, labeled the 9/11 terrorists as “psychopaths” who were using a misguided interpretation of their religion to carry out their plot.
Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti, who also spoke, called 9/11 the day “the devil came ashore to attack America.”
Cape May County was not untouched by the 9/11 attacks. Hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi unsuccessfully sought to take flying lessons at the Cape May Airport and spent time on the Wildwood Boardwalk before he would pilot United Flight 175 into the World Trade Center’s South Tower on 9/11, Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer said.
Although tragic and deadly, Schaffer said the events of Sept. 11, 2001, pulled the country together and showed that “America will always survive and be the face of freedom in this world.”
The speakers also used the ceremony to thank first responders and members of the military for their service to the country. They noted that first responders and the military were heroes during 9/11 and continue to help out during national crises, including now, as Florida tries to recover from Hurricane Irma’s destruction.
“We just came together as one, united, just as they are doing now with storm relief,” Fulginiti said, drawing comparisons between the nation’s rescue efforts for the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Irma.