Middletown refuses to accept silence on 9/11.
The New Jersey town — which lost 37 residents in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the most per capita of any town in that state — will host a service to read aloud the names of the town’s victims on Friday. This, after the 9/11 Memorial & Museum said that, due to COVID-19 risks, victims’ family members would not be reading the names of their loved ones at Ground Zero. Instead, for the first time ever, a recorded version will be played.
“It means so much to me that Middletown is doing [its own reading],” said Laurie Tietjen, whose 31-year-old brother, Port Authority cop Ken Tietjen, perished on 9/11. “To come to Middletown, where my brother grew up, and be around his teachers and friends, it’s an incredible feeling. Middletown has always been about the families, never about politics.”
At 7 a.m., Mayor Tony Perry will begin reading the names during a ceremony at the town’s WTC Memorial Gardens, which opened in 2003. It will be broadcast on local news and on the town’s Facebook page.
Normally, Middletown marks the tragic day with a quiet candlelit evening vigil and reads the names only every five years. But Perry was motivated to add the 19th-anniversary observance after both the traditional NYC reading and the Tribute in Light were scrapped. (After public outcry, the Memorial reversed course and will shine the beams of light from Manhattan.)
“Here, it cuts deeper than most places,” Perry told The Post. Initially he wrote a letter to Alice Greenwald, CEO of the 9/11 Memorial, offering to host the lights if New York City wouldn’t. He was bothered by what he saw as hypocrisy.
“To say the VMAs can take place in the city, and crews can work on that, why couldn’t they find a way to have the lights as well?” Perry said. “We were ready to figure it out. I wanted those lights so bright so Mayor de Blasio could see them from his side of the river.”
Tietjen echoed that sentiment.
“Through this pandemic, we have found different ways to do things and honor people. The fact that there wasn’t even initially an effort put into the lights and reading the names, it was heartbreaking,” she said.
Middletown officials weren’t the only ones to step up amid the controversy. The Staten Island-based Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation also offered to stage the two beams of light and will hold its own names reading on Friday, adjacent to Ground Zero.
Perry said Monmouth County officials will also, for the first time, set up tribute lights in nearby Atlantic Highlands, which overlooks Manhattan.
“It’s not going to be the same, but for the families of those lost on that day, I need to provide them with a little glimpse that can give them peace through that difficult time,” the Middletown mayor added.
Every year on the anniversary, Tietjen — who now runs a foundation in her brother’s name that benefits various causes, including first responders and children in need — drops off flowers at Ground Zero. She then visits firehouses and police stations throughout New York City to express her gratitude, something she believes is needed more than ever in today’s divisive climate. This year, she will head to city after the morning services in Middletown.
Her brother, Ken, was working at the PATH station when the attacks happened, and he and his partner commandeered a cab to the World Trade Center. While he perished, his partner lived to relay his heroics on that day.
“[Ken] was in and out of the towers multiple times, and he was giving first aid to a woman when the Towers fell,” Tietjan said. “I was working in New York at the time, and watching the television. When the towers came down, we all started crying. I said, ‘Oh those poor families and right after, I found out I was one of those families.”
Now she is devoted to keeping her brother’s memory alive, regardless of the location.
“For me, it’s such a tribute for people to say, ‘We don’t need big cities. We are going to do it on our own.’”
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