Last week, we wrote about the Kearny Police Department’s Junior Police Academy and the 50 dedicated cadets who completed the challenging program. They graduated on the evening of Aug. 13, but the morning of that same day is likely to live as long, or longer, in their memory.
It was spent at a place where America’s collective memories are kept alive, and hopefully will be for countless generations to come.
Thanks to the academy’s organizers — Sgt. Adriano Marques and Officers Kevin Canaley, Jack Grimm and Steve Montanino of the KPD’s Community Policing (COP) Unit — the youngsters traveled to Manhattan to visit the 9/11 Family Tribute Center and Ground Zero.
For those of us who witnessed the horrors of the terror attack on the World Trade Center and the agonizing aftermath, Sept. 11, 2001, seems like only yesterday. It is difficult to believe that, in a couple of weeks, we will be marking the 14th anniversary of that devastation.
But the 2015 cadets were not even born, or were infants, when it happened.
All the more reason for the visit, for they are the ones who will be the memories’ caretakers when we are gone.
The 9/11 Family Tribute Center is a separate entity from the larger National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The former is more personal, telling the individual stories of the people who perished or survived.
As explained on its website, tributewtc.org, “The 9/11 Tribute Center is a project of the September 11th Families’ Association, which brings together those who want to learn about 9/11 with those who experienced it.”
It “invites visitors to share personal stories of the 9/11 community – family members who lost loved ones, survivors, first responders and rescue workers, civilian volunteers and community residents whose healing is a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.”
The center is actually staffed by those family members, survivors, first responders, etc., who volunteer as guides.
It is located at 120 Liberty St., next door to the FDNY’s “10 House” — home to Engine 10/Ladder 10 — which stands directly across the street from Ground Zero.
The center’s exhibits include photos of the more than 2,700 WTC victims, a display of the hand-made “Missing” posters that papered Manhattan within hours of the attack, police and fire equipment and various artifacts of the day.
Grimm talked about two guns that had been recovered from the ruins of the Port Authority Police headquarters in one of the towers. Concrete had liquefied around the weapons and then rehardened, he explained. Said Canaley, “They looked like fossils.”
Visitors can also listen to audiotapes: police and fire calls recorded during the attack, and heart-wrenching phone messages from civilians trying desperately to contact their loved ones.
The COP cops knew they had to prepare the young cadets for the visit.
“We had to explain that we were basically taking them to a cemetery,” Canaley noted. At the site, Grimm said, “They were unbelievably respectful. The good behavior we got at the academy got kicked-up a notch.”
Among the guides who gave the Kearny kids their tour was retired CSI Det. Sgt. Joe Blozis, whose partner, Det. Claude (Danny) Richards, and a close friend, PA Police Officer Anthony Infante, were both killed on 9/11. Among the reasons Blozis volunteers at the center is because “he promised he’d never let anyone forget their names,” Grimm said.
For the tour of Ground Zero itself, the cadets were lucky enough to have as their guide fellow Kearnyite Marty Nystrom, a now-retired paramedic who had worked on “The Pile” in the days immediately following the attacks.
Nystrom has been volunteering at the center for three years and, noted Grimm and Canaley, he did “an awesome job.”
“The way he told the stories, they [the cadets] just wanted to know more and more,” said Grimm.
In a phone interview with The Observer, Nystrom shared some of the knowledge he had instilled in the youngsters.
“There’s a rhyme and a reason” to everything at the Ground Zero memorial, Nystrom explained. For example, the two waterfalls on the footprints of the Twin Towers work in unison: 18,000 gallons of water per minute (9,000 in each) flow into the pools and the water levels rise and drop together. This is a metaphor for the “victims’ being together in life and in death,” he said.
Additionally, as the water cascades over the falls, it separates into individual rivulets, which represent the “individual diversity” of those who perished.
We never realized that.
As for the cadets, Nystrom was effusive in his praise for “the respect they showed, the level of respect they had.”
“These kids were just incredible. They grasped the concept of respect,” he continued, noting that he wasn’t the only one impressed. “I’m still getting phone calls and emails from people asking, ‘Where were these kids from?’ And I couldn’t be prouder to say, ‘They’re from Kearny, N.J.!'”