Get our newsletters

Thousands flock to the Garden of Reflection Memorial

Mourning victims, 20 years after 9/11


Twenty years after one of the most infamous and tragic days in American history, thousands of people flocked to the Garden of Reflection Memorial in Lower Makefield Township Saturday to pay homage to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and think about helping to forge a better world in their honor.
In morning and evening ceremonies with a collective “Honor, Reflect, Unite” theme, attendees heard from family members of local victims, listened to musical performances focused on patriotism, faith and hope, and heard the names of the Bucks County and Pennsylvania victims read out loud.
More than 3,000 died on that fateful day two decades ago or soon afterward, including 2,973 victims at the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, Pentagon in Washington, D.C., passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in a field in Shanksville, and more than 400 first responders.
Eighteen victims were from Bucks County, and 67 from Pennsylvania.
“The night before, Sept. 10, we had gone to sleep safe and feeling invincible because we were Americans,” said Lower Makefield resident and Bucks County Prothonotary Judi Reiss, who lost her son Joshua in the attacks. He worked in one of the towers of the Trade Center.
“But the next day, so many didn’t make it past 10 a.m.,” Reiss continued. “Today and every day, I am Joshua Reiss’ mother.
“To me, the best revenge is to live a good and purposeful life. No terrorist can ever defeat that. Never take one second of your life for granted.”
Reiss also asked the crowd to remember longtime Lower Makefield Supervisor Grace Godshalk, who died in 2018. Godshalk, who lost her son Bill in the attacks on the Trade Center, was instrumental in helping the township secure the land that is now the Garden of Reflection, the official state memorial to Sept. 11 victims.
“She was an amazing, amazing woman,” Reiss said.
During the morning ceremony, Navy veteran and Yardley-Makefield Fire Company member Lawrence Schwalm rang a bell to mark the times 20 years ago of the strikes and collapses of the twin towers, the strike on the Pentagon and the crash in Shanksville.
Several speakers recalled the horror of the day but also how the nation came together in the days and weeks afterward. They were optimistic the country can achieve that kind of unity again.

“Twenty years ago we saw the worst of humanity, and the best of humanity,” said U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, whose brother Michael, also a congressman – who died early last year – secured a major grant to help pay for the Garden of Reflection when he was a congressman.
“Within a few short hours, the entire world turned upside down,” added Bucks County Commissioners Chairwoman Diane Ellis-Marseglia.
“We were all walking through a sense of shock together, but what happened to us was minimal compared to what the family members went through. We’ve learned we can survive anything, because they did.”
Looking at the inscribed names of the victims after the morning ceremony, Arlene Luzenski of Richboro remembered going up to New York in October of 2001 to help look for the remains of victims in her role as an emergency medical technician.
“It was like a war zone,” she said. “It seems like yesterday. Every year at this time, my heart breaks. I will never forget.”
The evening ceremony, focused particularly on going forward with purpose and unity, featured a moving performance of “Hallelujah” by Pennsbury High School graduate and 2013 “The Voice” contestant Matthew Schuler.
Former Federal Aviation Administration National Operations Manager Ben Sliney talked about his decision to shut down American air space after the attacks, a move credited by many with possibly saving hundreds of lives.
“I can’t get that day and those events out of my mind, but it also invokes pride in me because all Americans came together,” he said.
Holland residents Lauren and David DeVido said they felt it was important to come out to observe 20 years since the attacks.
“If you don’t maintain your optimism during these times, it’s a real problem,” said David after blowing out his candle from the candlelight vigil that concluded the evening ceremony.
“But I believe there is plenty of positive in this country, and tonight was a wonderful example.”