Judi Reiss last spoke to her son on the night of Sept. 10, 2001.
Joshua Reiss, the youngest international bonds trader at Cantor Fitzgerald in New York’s World Trade Center, told his mother that he would see her in just a couple of days. The 23-year-old planned to come home to Lower Makefield Township to celebrate his younger brother’s 16th birthday.
“His last words to me were, ‘You know I love you guys.’ And I laughed and said, ‘We love you, too.’ And he answered that he knew that,” Reiss said.
Joshua Reiss died the next day on 9/11, making his family one of nine in Lower Makefield to lose someone on that horrific day when nearly 3,000 people were killed in New York, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Southwestern Pennsylvania. With 18 victims, Bucks County had the highest death toll of any county in the state.
Hundreds of people from this hard-hit community gathered Saturday morning to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and celebrate the lives of their lost loved ones. The commemoration took place at the Garden of Reflection, Pennsylvania’s official 9/11 memorial.
A silver fire engine bell tolled for each of Pennsylvania’s 58 victims. It also rang to mark the timeline of each of that day’s catastrophic events, beginning with the first plane striking the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:46 a.m. and ending with that tower’s collapse at 10:28 a.m.
With heads bowed, the hushed crowd heard patriotic songs, speeches from choked-up community leaders, and the recitation of names of the Bucks County residents who died that day.
“It is the names that mean the most,” said the Rev. Doug Hoglund of Woodside Presbyterian Church in Yardley. “Behind each name is a flood of stories. We say the name and we tell the stories and they come pouring out: funny stories, moving stories, beautiful stories, amazing stories. Gathered together, the stories create a mosaic we call a life.”
Elsie Goss Caldwell remembered her son Kenny as a kind and loving person who cared deeply for his two siblings. He’d buy cups of coffee for people who were homeless and ask them if they were OK, she said.
“He had that ability to make everybody feel special, no matter who they were,” said Goss Caldwell, of West Philadelphia.
Kenny Marcus Caldwell worked on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower for a company called Alliance Consulting. He went to work on the morning of 9/11 just like any other day, prepared to run a meeting, Goss Caldwell said. Then he called his mom during the attack.
“He said, ‘Mom, I just wanted to let you know that I love you, but I got to get out of here,’” Goss Caldwell recalled. “Then ‘click’ the phone was off, and I was never able to speak to him or see him because we never found him. That’s the worst part. Never being able to, like, officially say goodbye.”
Speakers at the ceremony spoke of the unfathomable and perhaps incalculable loss from 9/11. There were 2,977 people killed in New York, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pa., but “that number goes up continuously,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, noting that first responders have later died from injuries and illnesses sustained that day.
“And all the servicemen and servicewomen who’ve been deployed not just in the Middle East but across the globe, many of whom have died not just on the battlefield but in training accidents, including many here in Bucks County,” said Fitzpatrick, who represents Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, which spans Bucks County and a slice of Montgomery County.
After the ceremony, attendees quietly toured the memorial. Opened in 2006, it includes a pool with two fountains representing the World Trade Center towers and a railing with glass panels bearing the names of the Bucks County victims. An outer rim of panels bears the names of victims from all the attacks. The land surrounding the garden has ripples to represent the shock waves 9/11 had across the world.
“It really shook our community,” said Reiss, an organizer for the event, as she hugged friends and family. Reiss, who is the Bucks County prothonotary, said Joshua had a “wonderful smile” and was “driven,” already on his way to a successful career after having been recruited for his job.
She said it took a while to accept that her son was gone. Eventually, she made a decision to do what she said her son would want.
“In his case that meant revenge,” she said. “But to me the best revenge is to live a good and purposeful life, and no terrorists can ever defeat that.”