Members of VFW Post 1963's Auxiliary recite the Pledge of Allegiance during the 9/11 ceremony in Sea Isle City's Veterans Park.


Lenny Munda recalled that on the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he and other New York City firefighters began the gruesome task of digging through the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in hopes of rescuing survivors or to recover bodies.

“The firefighters had to organize ourselves because our chiefs were dead,” he said of the terrible toll the disaster took on the fire department’s senior leadership.

Wearing his dress blue firefighter’s uniform, the now-retired Munda spoke of the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, in an interview following Sea Isle City’s annual Patriot Day ceremony Monday in remembrance of the nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist attacks.

In a poignant moment during the ceremony, Munda presented Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio with a plaque in honor of the 343 New York City firefighters who were killed on 9/11. Desiderio assured Munda the plaque will be displayed in a prominent place in Sea Isle to commemorate the fallen firefighters.

Retired New York City firefighter Lenny Munda, standing at podium, presents Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio with a plaque that honors the 343 New York City firefighters who died on 9/11.

Munda, 68, was a New York City firefighter from 1982 to 2002. He now has a vacation home in Ocean View, giving him ties to the Sea Isle area.

He spoke of the bravery of New York City’s firefighters and the other first responders who rushed to the scene of the World Trade Center’s collapse after the Twin Towers were struck by two airliners hijacked by terrorists.

“We had no masks or anything,” he said of the lack of protective gear as the firefighters dug through the massive rubble.

Sea Isle commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks with prayers, somber remarks, songs and the laying of memorial wreaths. A large crowd attended the ceremony at Sea Isle’s Veterans Park memorial.

Parked in the road next to Veterans Park was a former New York City fire truck that serves as a rolling tribute to the 9/11 victims. It includes the words “Never Forget … September 11, 2001,” painted on the side.

Several years ago, the fire engine was restored, adorned with patriotic images and then given as a gift to retired New York City Fire Department Lt. Lou Minchelli by his family. Minchelli, a long-time Sea Isle resident, passed away this year. Desiderio thanked members of the Minchelli family for their patriotism.

City, county and state officials join with members of Lou Minchelli’s family in front of a patriotically designed former New York City fire truck.

In keynote remarks, Desiderio said he could hardly believe that 22 years have gone by since the terrorist attacks. Despite the passage of time, he vowed that Sea Isle and the rest of the country will never forget 9/11 – just as they haven’t forgotten the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“For many people, 22 years is not long enough to mend a broken heart or to wipe away the sad memories that came from one of the most shocking days in American history,” Desiderio said.

Every day, Desiderio wears a lapel pin given to him by a New York City police captain who lost some members of his squad during the attacks. Framed by a blue ribbon, the miniature pin depicts a police shield, an American flag and a date: 9/11.

Father Perry Cherubini, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Sea Isle, spoke of the many ways “we remember” 9/11, including the deaths, grief, shock and, ultimately, the heroism that unfolded as the nation responded to the attacks.

“We remember when the towers fell and the lives that were lost,” Father Cherubini said while delivering the ceremony’s invocation.

Later, he noted of all the first responders, “We remember the heroes, those who rushed in to help.”

VFW Post 1963 Commander Joe McLenaghan exchanges a salute with a Sea Isle police officer during the wreath-laying ceremony.

Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Rothberg, who served as guest speaker during the ceremony, said that despite the overwhelming horror of 9/11, she also remembers the endless amounts of bravery and selflessness by so many Americans.

“We were all together in this to fight this terrible tragedy,” Rothberg said.

Altogether nearly 3,000 lives were lost when four hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York, into the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C., and in a field in Shanksville, Pa.

Joe McLenaghan, commander of VFW Post 1963 in Sea Isle, and Peggy Moore, president of the Post 1963 Auxiliary, said 9/11 also serves as a time to recognize the heroism and sacrifices of members of the U.S. military.

Moore said that 9/11 proved to be a day “that showed the world the United States is full of patriotism.”

Members of VFW Post 1963 display the colors.

McLenaghan read excerpts from a Patriot Day proclamation issued by President Joe Biden on Sept. 8 that honored the courage of all “the civilians, service members and first responders who leapt into action that day, running into the searing flames and crumbling buildings – risking and losing their own lives to save others.”

“In the years since September 11th, hundreds of thousands of American troops have served – and sacrificed – around the world to deny terrorists safe haven and protect the American people,” McLenaghan said while reading what he thought was one of the most potent passages in the proclamation.

Later during the ceremony, Desiderio had current and former members of the military who were in the audience stand up and be recognized. The crowd responded with applause and cheers.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio delivers the keynote address.
The crowd fills Veterans Park for the ceremony.
VFW Post 1963 Commander Joe McLenaghan reads excerpts from a presidential proclamation commemorating Patriot Day.