By Donald Wittkowski
Henrietta Creighton hopes to inspire as many people as she can to sing “God Bless America” on a regular basis in a show of patriotism and appreciation for the country.
On Sunday, the 15th anniversary of one of the most terrifying days in U.S. history, the 92-year-old Creighton had hundreds of people doing just that during a tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
She led the Patriots Day ceremony at Veterans Park not once, but twice, with a rousing rendition of the hymm that has come to symbolize a unified nation overcoming adversity in the “land that I love.”
Creighton, who has lived in Sea Isle since 1947, told the crowd of about 300 people that America’s recovery from the 9/11 attacks showed that “God sent his spirit into us.”
“Here I stand at 92 with that same spirit I received in my youth,” she said. “It never grows old.”
Using social media to help spread the word across the country, Creighton recently began a campaign to inspire people to regularly sing “God Bless America.” She noted that the ceremonies nationwide marking the 9/11 attacks have given her campaign added significance.
Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio called Sept. 11, 2001, “the day that changed everything.”
“With nearly 3,000 lives lost, more than 6,000 injured and billions and billions of dollars in damage, the 9/11 attacks will certainly be recorded as one of the most painful events in our nation’s history,” Desiderio said in keynote remarks.
Desiderio, however, stressed that despite the horrors of 9/11, America remains a country of “goodness, compassion and patriotism.”
“We also learned that our nation can heal itself after an unspeakable atrocity takes place,” he said.
Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti, who also spoke during the ceremony, characterized Sept. 11, 2001, as the day Americans “lost our innocence.”
“Our life has changed and more than ever we are aware of the people who would harm us,” Fulginiti said.
In addition to honoring the victims of 9/11, the ceremony also recognized members of the military, police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders for their efforts to keep the country safe.
“History will reveal that never did our military skip a beat after 9/11,” Desiderio said.
Behind the mayor stood some of the city’s police officers, firefighters and members of the ambulance corps attired in their uniforms. The crowd gave them a standing ovation after Desiderio praised their service.
Near the end of the ceremony, Desiderio had military veterans stand up in the audience so they could be recognized and applauded, too.
Representatives of Sea Isle’s VFW Post 1963 and the VFW Post 1963 Auxiliary participated in the ceremony. Members of Boy Scouts Troop 76 of Sea Isle joined with VFW Post 1963 to serve as color guard.
Eagle Scout Forest Wan, a member of Troop 76 who lives in Upper Township, played the mournful strains of “Taps” to honor the 9/11 victims.
The ceremony brought together both the younger and older members — including Creighton — of the local community.
Joining Desiderio at the podium were 11-year-old Will McGinn, 6-year-old Jayden Connolly and 5-year-old Jordan Figueroa. Jayden and Jordan, members of Cub Scouts Pack 76 of Sea Isle, were clad in their uniforms and waved miniature American flags.
The mayor called all of the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and other youngsters up front to accompany Creighton in her second rendition of “God Bless America,” symbolically unifying everyone in song.