West Windsor, N.J. – Commemorating the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, dignitaries, guests, and Mercer County officials joined faculty, staff and students of Mercer County Community College (MCCC) on Sept. 9 to pay homage to those who perished, and to the men and women who responded that day to the call of duty.
MCCC Board Chair Mark Matzen thanked a standing room-only crowd in the college’s Student Center for their show of support. “At the time we were most shaken and felt most vulnerable, we came together as a nation, as Americans, with a common purpose not to just defeat terrorism, but to show the world that we are resilient people and will continue to be a beacon of hope and freedom to the world.”
Dave Smolka, chief of the Hamilton Fire Company, was preparing to celebrate his son’s first birthday on Sept. 11 when he received the call to report for duty. A career captain with the Trenton Fire Department and a fire instructor at the Mercer County Fire Academy, he presented a moving reflection on the days he served at the World Trade Center site. “We walked in waist-deep water to check for sounds of life. Everything was covered in dust,” he recalled. “We found only victims; no survivors. Everything seemed like a blur. What I did not was not heroic or special. We were just doing our jobs. In one moment of time, so many lives taken, so many lives empty.”
Following a moving invocation by Rev. Robert Wittick, who serves MCCC as chaplain, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes addressed the assembled guests: “Our lives have been changed forever,” said Hughes, who lauded the college for being the home of the county’s fire and police training academies. “Countless first responders answered the call within minutes, and for that we will be forever grateful. This tragedy brought out the humanity and courage in all of us.”
MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue echoed the sentiment. “We come together to today to remember those who died and America’s first-line defenders who have protected our country. “We are privileged to have many first-responders here in Mercer County and at Mercer County Community College.”
During a heartfelt rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by MCCC student Krystina Vazquez, all in attendance spontaneously broke into song.
Click here for an NJ.com video interview with Dave Smolka.