From October 22 to October 31 2012, Hurricane Sandy tore through the East Coast, ravaging the beaches of New Jersey and ripping apart their boardwalks. Hundreds of homes were devastated and dozens of lives claimed. Commuting became a nightmare, with half of New York City in the dark, and most of New Jersey without power, cell-phone reception, internet connection, or heat. Water filled subway stations, and the salt from the sea killed trees, flowers, and grass, destroying the greenery of the landscape. Gas became scarce, and the obnoxious hum of generators was suddenly the most reassuring sound that existed. Most who lived through this storm can recall vague images involving cold, exhaustion, worry, and fear of the unknown.
But the stories of heroism and kinship that survived Super Storm Sandy were overwhelming. First responders were on call, running for days with no sleep, evacuating entire towns, using boats to reach those who needed help. Employees and emergency personnel evacuated a fully occupied hospital in the thick of the storm. A helicopter crew flew out to rescue those stranded in the water. Families opened their homes to neighbors and strangers alike, offering food and warmth and an electric outlet. Banks, hotels, and businesses opened their doors to those in need of shelter. NYC marathon runners raced to bring aid to the torn communities. Volunteers spent weeks clearing out debris and mold from flooded basements. For months, the stories continued to pour into those neighborhoods, with displays of bravery and compassion in the face of nature's terrorizing rampage.
Now, seven months later, America is ready to welcome summer through the traditional opening of the beaches on Memorial Day weekend. But the ceremonial event has assumed a new meaning entirely. The newly reconstructed beaches represent the courage to rebuild lives after a tragedy. They represent a unity of purpose, a people brought together by pain and hope. They represent the meaning of community, the strength of determination.
With cloudy skies and a brisk, cold rain, the celebratory weekend began. On the Jersey Shore, business owners exerted a final effort to complete paint jobs and touch up appearances in order to open their shops. The survival of these businesses is dependent on the success of sales between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The clock has now started. And with some roads still closed, some amusement park rides destroyed, and many summer accommodations swept away by the waves, it will not be easy to bounce back into summer this year. Setting the ambiance for the weekend, and for the coming summer, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addressed the people. "I want New Jersey, and the region, and the country to know that New Jersey has come back, that the summer will happen here in New Jersey," he said. "And you need to bring your families here to enjoy and create new memories this summer, the summer of 2013 in New Jersey," he added. Those memories, those picnics on the beaches of Jersey Shore, will infuse the weekend with new meaning.
So as we approach Memorial Day this year, we have new soldiers to remember. These are not soldiers who wear a uniform or train to carry a gun. These are fighters that emerge from a person's willpower, who survive on fearlessness and kindness. We remember the fallen fighters who struggled against all odds to save lives. And we recognize with infinite appreciation those who survived the battle and showed the world that a hero is born in the heart.