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Bittersweet time at dedication of 9/11 memorial

Sunday, April 28, 2002


WEST WINDSOR - Teresa Cunningham would prefer that her husband's name was not inscribed on the Sept. 11 memorial dedicated yesterday at the Ron Rogers Arboretum - despite the subdued happiness she felt at the ceremony.

She would rather her husband - Michael Joseph Cunningham - had been there last week when their only son, William, started to crawl.

Or when William - called Liam for short - pulled himself up to a standing position for the first time a few weeks ago.

Or when the youngster opens the bright blue eyes he inherited from his father each and every day.

But the Sept. 11 terrorist attack took Michael - called ``Michy'' - away only 12 days after Liam was born, when Michy, 39, returned to work on the 84th floor of the South Tower a day ahead of schedule after taking time off for his son's birth.

And as when workers officially identified Michael's remains, Teresa has started to find happiness in things she never could have imagined - like the support that came from nearly 500 people who attended yesterday's dedication ceremony for the memorial.

``They don't even know me and they made it so special,'' Teresa said. ``I'm floored. (Michy) would have been shocked. I don't think anyone thinks they'll be memorialized. He would have been laughing today - for him to have been the center of it.''

The memorial was dedicated to Cunningham, Jeffrey Chairnoff, Edward Pykon and John Ryan, who were all residents of West Windsor, and to Peter Edward Mardikian, Patrick Sean Murphy and David Suarez, who all grew up in West Windsor.

Family members clutched white roses and some cried silently during yesterday's ceremony as town officials dedicated twin reflecting ponds joined by a memorial bridge at the arboretum on the corner of Clarksville Road and Route 571. The victims' names are inscribed in a slab of cement at the end of the bridge.

``For us in particular it's very meaningful because they haven't found my son,'' said Jackie Mardikian, whose son, Patrick, was killed in the attack only six weeks after getting married.

Patrick, 29, grew up in West Windsor but was living in Manhattan on Sept. 11. He didn't usually work in the World Trade Center, but was giving a presentation that day at Windows On The World in Tower 1.

``It's a place we can come and reflect. It was such a horrible day. We will never be the same. My whole life I prayed for the safety of my children. There is a hole in my heart. I could never laugh again.''

Mardikian said the memorial probably would have amused her son.

``He would have said `Mom, I'm more famous dead than alive,' '' Mardikian said. ``He always had a joke about everything.''

Family members rose during the ceremony and were silently recognized. A representative of each family also addressed the crowd. Many family members said they were surprised and honored by the enormous turnout.

``I know it will be a special place for me,'' said Helaine Chairnoff, whose husband, Jeffrey, 41, worked in the South Tower.

Jackie Pykon said she and her husband, Edward, only bought their home in West Windsor a few years ago. Edward worked on the 93rd floor of the North Tower.

She said her husband gave their new baby daughter, Jordan, a room-by-room tour of their new home when she first came home from the hospital last March.

``All of our dreams were unfolding right before us,'' Pykon said. ``On Sept. 11, I lost my husband and my best friend. I'm now left with only memories of my husband. Although they are wonderful and beautiful, at times they are not enough.''

Friends of West Windsor Open Space, a nonprofit group, solicited donations to complete the memorial. Rocks surround the pools, which contain a waterfall.

``This will be a place my children and I can come for years,'' said Vera Murphy, whose husband, Patrick, 36, grew up in West Windsor and was killed in the North Tower. ``It's just a very peaceful place. When people remember Patrick it makes me very happy.''

Thomas Murphy, Patrick's father, told the crowd his son often played in the arboretum as a child. Patrick leaves behind Sean, 5, and Maggie, 3.

Vera Murphy and M. Theodore Suarez, who lost his 24-year-old son David, both said yesterday's ceremony was uplifting.

``It's part of the healing process,'' Suarez said. ``It's the future.''

Suarez and other family members said they hope the memorial will help people remember the magnitude of the attack.

``It's not important that they remember the specifics - that spirit that was built was important.''

Suarez and his wife, Carol, sat next to the Ryan family during the ceremony. The two families live next door to each other. John Ryan, 45, worked on the 85th floor of the South Tower.

``John would have been very touched by this memorial,'' his wife, Patricia, told the crowd. ``These people were the best this country had to offer in the name of freedom.''

The Rev. Kenneth Smith provided the invocation and benediction at the ceremony.

``The events of Sept. 11 were supposed to have pulled us apart and destroyed us - instead it has brought us together,'' Smith said. ``We came today to affirm evil will not triumph over good.''

Michy Cunningham's brother, Sean, traveled from London yesterday to attend the ceremony and balanced Liam, who will be 8 months old next week, on his knee.

``We're all going to make sure he knows his dad was a wonderful guy,'' Sean said. ``Every day brings back memories. He was the happiest person. Every day was fun.''

Teresa said she plans to bring Liam to the arboretum often.

``It's better than a cemetery,'' she said.

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