MIDDLETOWN, N.J. - In this Monmouth County bedroom community, about an hour outside Manhattan, the train station became a symbol of loss on Sept. 11, 2001 - dozens of cars now abandoned in the commuter parking lot, their drivers never to return.

On Monday, people waved American flags at those boarding morning trains into the city. At a nearby 9/11 memorial, victims' family members gathered to honor those killed nearly a decade ago and to revel in the death of the attack's architect, Osama bin Laden.

"I'm ecstatic," said Mike Rogers, 26, whose mother, Rosanne Lang, a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, died that day. "The only thing that I'm happier about than bin Laden being killed is the pride of being an American."

Middletown lost 37 residents in the terrorist strike, a death toll exceeded only by those of Hoboken and New York City. The attack felt personal to residents of the middle-class suburb of about 66,600, who have held tight to the traditional notion of what it means to be American.

The town of mostly Irish and Italian immigrants boasts what is said to be the largest volunteer firefighter crew in the nation. Families catch up with each other at weekly church services, and children line the sidewalks at the annual Memorial Day parade, said Gerry Scharfenberger, a town committee member and a former mayor.

"If you had a picture of Americana in the dictionary, you would see a picture of Middletown on the Memorial Day parade," he said.

After their long wait, some victims' families were relieved by news of bin Laden's death.

"Life is different now than what it used to be," said Martin Lang, 55, Rosanne Lang's brother. "This country used to be happy. There was a lot more laughter in the world. Hopefully with this bastard gone, we can all start getting back on track."

Rogers expressed his gratitude in a Facebook post: "To the soldier that pulled the trigger - we will never know you, but you're the greatest American ever. Thank you."

Yet the news also brought painful reminders.

"It was a good feeling. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It's good finally triumphing over evil," Scharfenberger said. "Then again, I know several of the folks who were killed that day, and every week at church I see their kids growing up. That's never going to change."

Of the 37 who died, two were from the Lang family: Rosanne, 42, the only girl in a brood of a dozen, and her nephew Brendan Lang, 30, a recently married construction project manager and a new homeowner.

"It fractured the family. It fractured the whole country," Martin Lang said.

He said his father, William Lang, a World War II veteran, was never the same after the death of Rosanne, his "princess."

Martin Lang was asleep Sunday when his daughter called to tell him the news. He walked into his kitchen and cried.

"I just broke down. Everything just came out of me," he said.

The phone rang again. It was Rogers, who came over with a bottle of his mother's favorite red wine. He had kept the bottle next to her picture since 2003.

"Last night seemed to be an apt time to open it," said Rogers, a chef.

On Monday, Martin Lang joined a handful of others at the memorial garden, where each of Middletown's victims is honored with a headstone.

Taped to the top of the stone for Justin John Molisani Jr. was a yellow piece of paper with a message scrawled in black marker:

"Justice! Bin Laden Is Dead!"

Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or at jfarrell@phillynews.com.