In 2001, Kenneth Kokoska of Monroe Township was a postal employee dealing with the anthrax scare that surfaced shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Although he did not know anyone who was killed at the World Trade Center, his proximity to the anthrax situation made him realize that any American could be affected by acts of terrorism. Kokoska decided to create a monument to mark the tragic, confusing time, and, to him, the Twin Towers were the perfect symbols.
“I didn’t want people to forget everything that was going on in the country,” says Kokoska, who started building the towers in his basement in November 2001 and erected them on his front lawn the following month.
“I tried to model them from aerial photos in magazines,” he says. Kokoska’s models were built on a 1:100 scale. The actual towers were roughly 1,350 feet tall and 200 feet wide; Kokoska’s are 13.5 feet tall and 2 feet wide—complete with blinking lights and an antenna. After a decade, the lights no longer blink, but the buildings still pull at the heartstrings of passersby.
“People do a U-turn to see it twice,” Kokoska says. “They stop more in the spring and summer, sometimes to take a photo of their kids in front of it or to talk if I’m in the driveway. They occasionally leave cards or flowers, especially around the anniversary. Once, somebody dropped off pieces of concrete from the towers.”
The makeshift monument has become a landmark for locals. “When I meet people in the area and we get to talking, they’ll say, ‘You live on Mounts Mills Road? You must live near that house with the towers,’” Kokoska says with a chuckle.
After the 10th anniversary of 9/11, though, the neighborhood will lose its iconic towers to a neighboring town; Kokoska is strongly considering moving the memorial to his mother’s front lawn in nearby Spotswood, because she lives on a much more well-traveled road.
“With Osama bin Laden being killed, more so than ever they should be in a place where more traffic will pass them by,” Kokoska says. “I’m going to miss them, but my wife and I are thinking about planting two trees in their place and watching them grow.”—Lisa Fields
Two days after the 9/11 attacks, when Somerset County Surrogate Frank Bruno heard that volunteers were needed at Ground Zero, he instinctively grabbed his old canvas tool bag, hopped in his car and drove to lower Manhattan. After making it through a screening process, he was accepted as a volunteer. As he approached the smoldering piles of debris at the site of the former World Trade Center, he pulled his old welding torch out of his bag and got to work.
“I was burning beams to make them smaller, and cranes would remove them,” he says.
For nearly a month, Bruno worked two jobs: county surrogate by day, Ground Zero recovery worker by night. He’d leave his office in Somerville around 3 pm, then stay nearly all night in lower Manhattan, breaking down steel beams, passing buckets of debris along a removal line or assisting in any way he was needed.
In the days immediately after the tragedy, driving to his volunteer shift was a surreal experience. “It was out of a sci-fi movie,” he says. “In broad daylight—the Turnpike, the Holland Tunnel—there were no other cars.”
At Ground Zero itself, “everybody had the same motive, but there wasn’t a lot of talk,” he says. Bruno was touched by the support that he and other recovery workers received.
“There were Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts at tables giving out drawings and cookies,” he says. “It was an incredible feeling, that we’re all one, caring for each other. I’d never felt that before.”
After a few weeks, Bruno asked Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s office for a steel beam from Ground Zero to incorporate into a 9/11 memorial in Somerset County. About a month later, he was given two beams. One was placed in front of the county courthouse in Somerville; the other was given to Green Brook, which lost many residents.
Bruno often is asked to give speeches around the county on the anniversary of the attacks. “I’m no hero,” he says, “just a guy who was fortunate enough to meet the requirements to [volunteer at Ground Zero]. Many people attempted to get in but couldn’t, and I’ve always felt grateful that I could. I couldn’t sit home when I saw the news; it was hard not to get involved.”—L.F.
A memorial at the Bergen County town’s firehouse honors a local firefighter who died when the towers fell on 9/11. The memorial consists of a bronze statue of a kneeling fireman, a reflecting pond with an eternal flame, and a granite wall with a carving of the firefighter’s gear, including his helmet, right.
Marlboro sculptor Franco Minervini can never forget the design meeting sponsored by the Monmouth County September 11th Memorial Committee in 2003. Talking with the families of victims who attended that day “turned me into putty,” he says.
Minervini won the commission, and the monument he created now is perched atop Mt. Mitchill in Atlantic Highlands, 266 feet above the Atlantic Ocean—the highest ocean vista along the entire mid-Atlantic seaboard. In the distance: Lower Manhattan and the tragic hole in the skyline once occupied by the World Trade Center.
For his monument, unveiled in 2005, Minervini incorporated a steel beam recovered from Ground Zero, which he placed in the claws of a 9-by-11-foot eagle, precisely carved from limestone.
Minervini labored through nine clay renditions of the eagle’s face, finally achieving a countenance “not too sad, not too angry—neutral, yet fierce and noble, a face that means everything,” he says.
A native of the Italian seaport of Molfetta, Minervini, 67, immigrated to America at 14. “I feel stronger putting my adopted country in a good focus,” he says. “If you can help somebody who has been hurt, you have done a lot.”
A stone-paved walkway etched with a 9/11 timeline leads to the monument, which oversees a healing landscape of American Holly and fragrant sweet fern created by Joseph Sardonia, supervising landscape architect for the Monmouth County Parks System. The sunny plaza around the monument is chiseled with the names of the 147 Monmouth County residents lost on 9/11. —Bill Rozday
An 8-foot replica of the Twin Towers was constructed by a volunteer firefighter and installed at the local firehouse. Details include more than 40,000 drill holes to represent the buildings’ windows.
When her mother and sister sent her into lower Manhattan in mid-September 2001 with a photograph of her older brother, Robert, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, E. Betsy Parks did not intend to become a 9/11 activist. But the experience motivated the Bayonne woman to get involved in a number of causes that honor 9/11 victims.
“My family asked me to go as the emissary,” Parks says, “and that evolved into volunteerism.” Unfortunately, Robert E. Parks Jr., a 47-year-old father of two who lived in Middletown, did not survive.
Shortly after the tragedy, Parks worked with the city of Bayonne to bring Russia’s gift of a 9/11 memorial to Harbor View Park on the Bayonne waterfront. The 100-foot-tall bronze block has a giant fissure in its middle with a teardrop hanging from it, in memory of the victims. Parks had a prominent seat during the dedication of the memorial in 2006. “Bill Clinton was there,” she recalls.
“He came right over to me and my sister, because we were in the family-members’ section.”
Parks also helped to form the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial Foundation, a group of victims’ family members. The group raised the funds for the Empty Sky Memorial, New Jersey’s official 9/11 memorial, which will be dedicated on September 10. The memorial in Jersey City’s Liberty State Park consists of two parallel stainless steel walls measuring 200 feet long and 30 feet high, engraved with the names of the 700-plus New Jersey residents who perished during the terrorist attacks.
Parks and her sister plan to attend the 10th-anniversary 9/11 memorial service at Ground Zero. “Every year, I go,” she says. “We take the ferry across, which is only for family members. I wouldn’t miss it.”—L.F.
This town’s “living memorial” has a Japanese maple tree amid black granite boulders engraved with images and the family-lettered names of the four town residents who died on 9/11. Winding around the memorial is a walkway of red, white and blue pavers designed to look like a unity ribbon.
Photos by Colin Archer and Marc Steiner/Agency New Jersey.
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