Commuters Share Sept. 11 Bond
The trains connected communities and commuters. Some came home that day while others didn't.
Up and down the train lines New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001, was the same sad image at the end of the day.
“It was heartbreaking to see the cars at the station of those who didn’t make it back home,” said Millburn Mayor Sandra Haimoff, whose vivid memory of the station parking lots has stayed with her.
Five residents of Millburn and Short Hills went in to the city that day, but never came home.
Many along the Morris & Essex lines have a similar recollection; at each station a handful of cars remained that evening.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Vic DeLuca was Mayor of neighboring Maplewood — just as he is today.
Then, as now, he shares a bond with many others in towns along the line: His life is wound around his daily commutes to work in New York City.
Each morning, DeLuca heads for the Maplewood Train Station to take the train into Manhattan where he is president of the Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation.
Ten years ago today DeLuca boarded the train early as usual. "I think the thing I'll always remember was how beautiful a day it was," said DeLuca.
He had been at his Midtown office for more than an hour when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. Like so many people DeLuca thought the initial crash was a small plane. "The last thing we thought was that it was a terrorist attack."
DeLuca and staff dug out an old TV and found one station that worked. Later they went to the roof of their 12-story office building. "We watched the second building fall."
Throughout the day, DeLuca was in constant contact the Township Administrator, whose major initial concern was the fact that schools were letting out and many parents were at work.
The same thing was happening in all the other towns along the line. In Millburn, guidance counselors, principals and even police stayed with children at the schools until their parents – or someone close to them – could get there.
DeLuca, like many other commuters, got home around 4 p.m. — after authorities determined that the tunnel was safe and resumed train traffic out of Penn Station.
DeLuca spent most of the rest of the day, until there were no more trains around 10:30 p.m. at the train station.
"There were firefighters at the train station decontaminating people. People on the train were full of soot, he said. "The whole thing at the station was eerie. As it was getting darker — there was no train schedule — you'd know a train was coming only because you could see the light through the trees, the glimmer of light around the bend."
The memorial at the train station is very near and dear to DeLuca: He worked with mayors up and down the Morris & Essex train line to create a series of coordinated memorials in the towns at their train stations. All of them share the same text, which DeLuca wrote. They read, in part:
We shall never forget our friends and neighbors
who rode the rails with us that morning
but did not return that night.
Laura Griffin contributed to this report.