Sept. 11, 2001: Memories still vivid after 12 long years

Greg Bean

A s I write this on Sept. 13, my emotional tank is running on empty and I’m sure many of yours are as well. The first week of September is a time of somber remembrance around here, and as the dark nights of fall draw in again, we can’t help but think of other bright September mornings not so many years ago, and how our lives changed course on a dime.

Wednesday was the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of almost 3,000 innocent victims in New York, at the Pentagon, and in a field near Shanksville, Pa. As I watched the gut-wrenching coverage and listened to the names of the dead being spoken as the bells rang out, I couldn’t help flashing back to the bright, clear morning when it all happened.

I was driving from my home in East Brunswick to the office of Greater Media Newspapers in Freehold, enjoying the gorgeous weather, listening to a book on tape, thinking about a column I was writing concerning an open records request the News Transcript had filed, and thinking about my middle son, Coleman, who had enlisted in the U.S. Army five days before and was undergoing basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.

I stopped in Jamesburg at Mendoker’s Bakery and was still wiping doughnut frosting from my fingers as I walked into the office and saw our receptionist in tears. I looked in the door of the conference room and saw nearly every employee in the building that morning gathered around the big conference table, eyes glued to the television.

“You’d better come in here and see this,” someone said. I did, and less than 30 minutes later the South Tower collapsed. The North Tower fell an hour later. “We’re at war with someone,” I said. “Our lives just changed in ways we can’t even imagine,” someone else said.

How right they were. We’ve come through a lot since that grim morning, and today a new Freedom Tower has risen in the background and a beautiful memorial is open at ground zero. But it doesn’t take much to bring it all back again for me, as sharp and horrific as the moment it happened. And from the looks on the faces of the people at various remembrance ceremonies last week, I wasn’t alone.

But I also saw resilience and determination in those faces — the determination to keep moving forward, the determination that, as much as we lost that bright morning in September 2001, we would forge something good and meaningful from our sorrow and loss. It’s that resilience and determination that we’ve seen in the aftermath of so many disasters and losses in the last years that makes me proud to be an American.

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And speaking of moving forward, there was another solemn gathering last week on Sept. 10 — a candlelight vigil at the Rutgers University Behavioral HealthCare facility to commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day and help get the word out about the hotlines available to those in New Jersey in their darkest hour, or those in simple need. There were politicians and administrators among the speakers and guests, including James and Jane Clementi, the brother and mother of Tyler Clementi, the first-year Rutgers University student who took his own life in 2010, and my wife, Linda, who has been a tireless advocate of establishing and funding public-private partnerships to provide and fund outreach services to veterans and their families for the last five years.

She’s made of stronger stuff than I am. Sept. 10 was also the five-year anniversary of the memorial service we held for our son, Sgt. Coleman Bean, who served two tours in Iraq, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, and took his own life on Sept. 6, 2008 — and there’s no way I could have functioned in public.

“Suicide is not indicative of cowardice or a failure of character,” Linda said as part of her remarks. “There is an experience of profound pain. If we don’t raise our voices for those we love, no one will. We cannot stand in the shadows.”

She carried the ball for our family that day, but there’s one thing I can do today. Here are some numbers available to those in need: NJ Hopeline, 1-855- 654-6735; NJ Veterans Helpline, 1-866-838-7654; Vet2Vet, 1-877-838-2838 (national) or 1-866-838-7654 (N.J.); Vets4Warriors, 1-855-838-8255; National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255; Mom2Mom, 1-877-914-6662; Cop2Cop, 1- 866-267-2267; 2nd Floor (NJ Youth Helpline), 1-888-222-2228; the Peer Recovery WarmLine, 1-877-292-5588.

Of these and other lifelines, she said, “New Jersey has done an amazing and enormous job of delivering support programs for our most vulnerable populations. When my son was on his second tour of duty, he was promoted to sergeant. I asked him what it meant. He said, ‘It means what it has always meant — get my guys home in one piece.’ These lifelines keep people in one piece.”

There are many more free crisis hotlines available and operational, and if you don’t see one that might fit your specific need, drop me a note and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

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Lots of reader feedback from the recent column on the failure of New Jersey’s medical marijuana laws. One of the most succinct was from J.T. of Tinton Falls, who said, “Thank you very kindly for writing a sensible, reasonable and fair account of Gov. Christie’s obstructionist marijuana policy. Your word choice, recalcitrant, is perfect. The governor has a personal bias as an ex-prosecutor that clouds his judgment. It is tragic for the families of seriously ill people. Christie says he’s trying to protect children, but instead they are suffering. He doesn’t understand the drug war is a failure and the people of N.J. (and beyond) are moving forward.” You can reach Gregory Bean at gbean@gmnews.com.