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Our Pearl Harbor

I was watching horribly acted, MTV-contrived quick-edits of a movie called Pearl Harbor on HBO the other day. Like a car wreck, the movie was painfully brutal for the first 60 minutes, yet I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. Kate Beckinsale, who likely couldn’t spell ESPN in real life, made the viewing easier, at least from an aesthetic perspective.

Then the attack scenes began and the knowledge that this was a movie based on actual events sank in. America had no chance against the Japanese that Sunday morning, simply because the enemy achieved the element of complete surprise. 2390 people died and 1178 were wounded that day; some slowly drowning by being trapped under the capsized USS Arizona and other ships, others taken down unarmed by Japanese bullets, bombs and torpedoes. This horrific event happened 30 years before I was born, yet anger sank in as I, ironically enough, absorbed these scenes on my Sony TV.

September 11th was successful in the eyes of the sub-human members of Al Queda because they too had the element of surprise on their side. Pre-9/11 America was mostly a carefree country of isolation and safety from foreign aggressors who had no ability to touch us on our own soil, short of using a nuclear bomb. Despite all the second-guessing in the media, no one saw this attack coming (I didn’t see any stories in print or on television with any predictions of a 9/11 kind of attack before it happened). Since then, our perspective on all that exists is completely different.

Generation X and Y now understand the pride and nationalism our grandparents felt after December 7, 1941. Unlike the young people of that generation, however, there is no defined enemy we can enlist in the armed forces to directly fight back against the way Tom Brokaw’s "greatest generation" could against the Japanese and Germans. Instead, we continue our daily lives with the angry and somewhat helpless thought in the back of our minds that an attack can and most likely will happen again on some level, and likely in the New York City, where many Hoboken residents earn their paychecks.

The word "anniversary" is usually one that has a positive connotation and almost seems inappropriate when referring to what happened in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington a year ago. The victims of 9/11 will be remembered throughout Hoboken that day in several quiet ceremonies, mostly occurring on Pier A near the train station with the empty space of where the Towers once stood as a backdrop.

The most poignant of these ceremonies will be the planting of a tree in Sinatra Park for each victim of the tragedy. Other events include a community fund-raiser to help raise money for an official memorial to be built later this year. There will also be a new 45-minute documentary titled "After 9/11: Remembrance and Renewal" shown on Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. at the DeBaun Auditorium. Proceeds will be donated to a new Stevens Scholarship for the children of the 9/11 victims. Several bars around town are also having 9/11 tributes September 10th and 11th with various bands and drink specials, although how those promotions go over with a public mourning all over again remains to be seen. In fact, such promos may be seen in the eyes of some as a poorly timed and an exploitative excuse to get drunk.

Not surprisingly, Hoboken officially had the second most deaths per capita of any community outside of Manhattan. According to the New York City medical examiner’s office, 39 of Hoboken’s 39,000 residents died on September 11. Mayor Roberts believes that figure is higher, simply because the official addresses used when tallying the victims were determined by what was indicated on a drivers license. Roberts believes an additional 14 people that may not have been included in the official count lived in Hoboken but kept their parents’ addresses on their licenses, which is very common. If that is case, and it likely is, Hoboken has earned the most dubious of distinctions, having suffered more loss of life as a community than any other in the country with 53 lost.

One year later, we look back on a nightmare that changed our lives in different ways forever. Our priorities have been turned upside down. Things that were once deemed important can almost be laughed off now. The little things matter more. If anything good came out of September 11, it is that those who learned from it appreciate how precious life truly is and may make a point to live it to the fullest…without regrets.

Here’s hoping Hollywood doesn’t decide to make a homogenized movie about the horror of September 11 by wrapping a cliched love triangle around it in an effort to tug at the heartstrings of America in the name of quick profits. I can only imagine what the witnesses to WWII were thinking when watching Pearl Harbor earn its $200 million.

September 11 should be marked in a quiet manner with dignity and respect. Hoboken, a city that lost more than 1 of every 1000 people that lived within its borders, will do just that.

Joe Concha is a Hoboken-based columnist for The New York Sun and a contributor to

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