Choking back emotion, a New York fireman who lost 15 comrades on 9/11 urged Morris County to honor them and all who were killed in that terror attack by preserving their memories–and by helping each other.
“I remember after Sept. 11, 2001, we all came together to support one another,” Boonton native John Fila said Sunday at the 9/11 memorial in Parsippany.
“Please let’s not forget how that felt. And how much comfort that gave all of us who lost so much. Listen to one another. Get involved. Help those who are hurting. It is our responsibility.”
Fila delivered the keynote at a ceremony that included a procession of police and firefighters from across the county, the lighting of candles, and a bugler playing Taps. Sixty-four Morris County residents perished in the 9/11 attacks; nine were from Greater Morristown.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.)., state lawmakers, Morris freeholders and the county sheriff and prosecutor were among dignitaries who attended the event, held in the shadow of twisted beams from the World Trade Center.
Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove
Calling that steel “a powerful reminder of the worst mankind has to offer,” Fila said the beams triggered memories of “all the days I spent working at the site, digging, searching, looking for loved ones.”
His fire station, near Times Square, lost 15 men who had responded to the blazing Twin Towers on 9/11.
“Sometimes it is overwhelming. Although it’s been 16 years, those memories are fresh in my mind. The devastation, the horrors I witnessed, the people that we lost. My colleagues that never came back to the firehouse,” Fila said.
“I think of my brothers from my firehouse, and will always wonder what grand plans life had in store for them. I wonder why I was spared, and my brother Chris, was not. Do I have survivor’s guilt? No doubt.
“There is not a moment in time when I do not think of him and his family. My roller coaster of emotions never knows where it will stop. From the very highest highs to the lowest lows.
“Sometimes I cry at the most benign things. And sometimes I put on a brave face, when I know somebody has to,” said Fila, who sought professional counseling and urged others to do the same if they are troubled.
He also asked anyone old enough to remember 9/11 to share with future generations precisely where they were on that tragic day.
“History, how it gets recorded, sometimes gets fuzzy. Or impersonal. Sometimes it can take on the writer’s perspective, or political views. So it may not be as accurate as it should be,” he said.
Reminding the large audience that “we are all still a target” of terrorists, Fila said trash can fires, once routine, now fill him with dread. He worries about his firefighters, he said.
The New York fire department lost 343 firefighters on 9/11, and another 159 to cancers related to their time spent at Ground Zero. Another 1,700 are battling similar cancers , Fila said.
Fila finds some solace from his fellow firefighters, a tight-knit family who stood in for a deceased 9/11 colleague at his daughter’s wedding.
That camaraderie, he said, and public outpourings like Sunday’s annual event, have rescued him from the “dark, lonely place of depression.”
But don’t be content merely saying “Never forget,” Fila said. It’s important to fill in the blanks about those slain on 9/11.
“Be a part of ‘never forget.’ Share their stories, their lives, what they stood for. Tell others, to keep their memories alive. Pass it on from one generation to the next. We are strong.
“Those we loved and lost deserve to be remembered. They were the true heroes of that day. And it is our obligation to tell everyone their story.”
MorristownGreen.com contributor Jeff Sovelove contributed to this report.