A life of liberty: Lincoln graduate reflects on 9/11
By Kris Leonhardt
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – “My first recollection is that as an American I had been woken out of a pleasant dream. A month earlier I was working on big concerts – Radiohead – in the park, and I thought wow this is going to be the most exciting job ever,” Josh Osowski reflects on his life leading up to Sept. 11, 2001.
The Lincoln High School graduate grew up on Snyder Street in Wisconsin Rapids, where he said he earned a love of nature.
“At the time it was surrounded by woods and my friends and I spent countless hours playing there,” he said. “I guess that is where I learned my love for nature.”
While his love of nature led him on a career path, it is liberty that weaves a common thread through his life and serves as both a beacon and a reminder of what life as an American affords its citizens.
“Interestingly, in elementary school, Lee Iacocca was leading an effort to raise money for the restoration of the statue of liberty. Part of that effort was to have kids raise money through bike rides. I took the bike ride very seriously, and raised the most money in my class – who knew years later I would be working at a park where my very office window looked directly out at Lady Liberty.”
After earning his degree, Osowski became park superintendent at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ.
“On the morning of 9/11, I was in my office at Liberty State Park,” he recalled. “At one end of the park, we are directly across from the Statue of Liberty and at the other downtown Manhattan, directly across from World Trade Center.
“We heard that there had been a plane crash into one of the WTC towers, but at the time we just assumed it was a small plane or something. We drove down to the other end of the park where we saw some smoke coming from the building.
“As we were standing there we saw a large commercial plane coming up the Hudson River, in a manner that was very unusual. In complete astonishment, I saw the plane veer towards the building and crash into it. It felt unreal, like I was watching a movie or something.
“After that we began closing the park down to the public. I did not leave for three days, sleeping in my office as we assisted with the recovery.
“Liberty State Park played an small but important role in several ways: One, it became a place of healing where people could come and contemplate what had just happened, and maybe leave a memento to someone they had lost; two, since we had space, our lawns and buildings where used to stage equipment and supplies and became home of the NJ Family Assistance Center.”
In the days following 9/11, Osowski assisted fellow Americans in ways he could have never imagined. As Osowski reflects on the past 17 years, he said that the experience has “changed (his) life – some good, some bad.
“And though my career has been very good, the excitement was replaced with responsibility, and every time we have events in our parks, I sigh a sigh of release when the event is over and everyone has left the park safe. So, I think the experience forced me to grow up and become more serious.”