America changed 10 years ago, speakers at the Atlantic County 9/11 ceremony reminded the hundreds who gathered at the Atlantic County fire training center.
But some of those who came to the Tony Canale Center Sunday morning needed no one telling them to never forget 9/11.
Ten years ago, not just the country, but their lives changed—forever.
Mary Ann Phillipi, clutching an umbrella and an American flag in her left hand and a pen in her right, struggled to put down in words what the terrorist attacks meant to her and her family.
Shaking with emotion, her eyes moist, she labored to fill out a passage in a memory book provided by the Atlantic County Library system before the ceremony began.
She explained the emotions behind the few simple sentences she left behind:
“My son, Patrick Klotzbuecher, had just gone to Rutger’s Newark. He’d just moved in. He was living across from the World Trade Center. He planned to be a corporate business attorney.
“I was with a girlfriend at her sister’s house and we heard a plane had hit one of the towers. I didn’t really think much of it at the time. But I got home to Egg Harbor Township and saw what was going on. It was empty on the street. An eerie feeling.
“When my son called me, I started to cry. I couldn’t stop. I called my mother. My autistic son, Danny, came home from school and I told him about what had happened. Danny said one word “Patrick?” I told him he was alright.
“When Patrick called me, he told he had slept right through the attacks. When he went to sleep, he saw the two World Trade Center towers. When he got up, they were gone.
“From that day on, he changed his major, changed it because of the attacks. He became a biomedical chemistry major. He went to work for the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as a field investigator.
“He joined the Air Force. Now he’s in the Navy Reserve, a member of the Medical Corps, stationed in Puerto Rico. I emailed him yesterday. He’s en route to a deployment in India.
“I’m so proud of him. My husband, Patrick Philippi Sr. wanted to come today. We felt we should honor my son. We know someone who knows someone who died, but not someone who died.
“But Patrick changed his life because of this. We’re very proud of him.”
Galloway residents Anna and Joe Jezycki and their daughter, Genine Agnew, also of Galloway, brought a box of tissues to the ceremony, where they honored the memory of Peggy Jezycki-Alario of Staten Island, where the family has roots.
“Even big people cry,” explained Joe Jezycki, 10 years after all trace of his niece disappeared after going to what was supposed to be a quick meeting across the street from she worked as an insurance underwriter in Lower Manhattan.
Peggy Jezycki-Alario had planned to be off Sept. 11, 2001, the week before her 43rd birthday.
But a relative was sick, and because she was a loving and caring woman who put family first, she traded days so she could tend to her uncle.
And since she was at work, she also went to what was supposed to be a brief meeting to ink a deal—on the 105th floor of the North Tower.
That much the family knows: Peggy Jezycki-Alario called her mother at 9 a.m. that morning.
She clearly expected the meeting to be routine and short; she even left her purse behind in her office across the street from the World Trade Center.
Genine Agnew heard news of the attacks on her drive to work at an Atlantic City casino. She frantically tried calling for her cousin.
Later that day, the family discovered Peggy Jezycki-Alario, a married mother of two boys, was among the many missing.
“It was horrendous. We were on pins and needles,” recalls Anna Jezycki.
The authorities asked for hair samples to check for DNA.
For days, the family maintained a phone vigil—in case she turned up, in case something, anything, was found.
In the end, there was nothing.
The family keeps Peggy’s memory alive at a memorial in Staten Island, at a memorial in Galloway Township, on T-shirts, hats, bracelets, ink stamps and a stencil on the rear window of Genine’s SUV.
And despite the fact that they keep the memory of their loved one alive best of all in their heads and hearts, they still come to annual ceremonies, such as the one Atlantic County held Sunday.
“There’s really no place to go,” to honor her niece’s memory, said Anna Jezycki, who hears Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” whenever she thinks of Peggy.
At the county ceremony, Anna Jezycki filled most of a page of a memory book with her feelings about 9/11 and her niece.
The entry is just above a passage Mary Ann Phillipi inscribed about how 9/11 inspired her son to a life in public service.
Two family’s lives—changed forever.