NEW MILFORD — More than 50 residents watched quietly Monday morning as veterans and first responders raised the American flag at the 9/11 memorial on Patriots Way Plaza.

At 8:46 a.m., the ringing of a bell broke the silence, marking the time the first airliner crashed into the World Trade Center 16 years ago.

As the bell tolled, resident Rachelle Goldberg sighed, placing a hand over her heart and blinking through tears.

“You almost feel the pain of the people left behind,” she said after the event, which included a flag-folding ceremony, a performance of the national anthem and speeches.

Afterward, residents lined up to place flowers at the foot of the memorial, which was already decorated with photographs, miniature fire trucks and a worn teddy bear in a yellow fireman’s uniform.

Local officials reflected on how much impact the attack had on the country and on people.

“9/11 is one of those days that defines a moment, in not only the timeline of our nation, but in our personal lives,” Mayor David Gronbach said in a speech.

State Rep. Bill Buckbee, R-New Milford, said growing up he never understood how people of his father’s generation could remember so clearly the day President John F. Kennedy was killed. But he said 9/11 is etched onto his brain.

“It’s that important to keep that memory alive so that we don’t forget, not only what was done in the attacks on our country, but the brave men and women who fought to protect our country and who still do,” he told the crowd.

Buckbee said he lost friends that day.

“The greatest honor for those people is by honoring those who continue to serve and give thanks to our brave men and women, our first responders who give every single day what could be that same gift,” he said.

Gronbach said the community can also recognize those lost on 9/11 by doing good to others. He said he sees this in New Milford every day through the volunteers who help senior citizens, teach immigrants English or run organizations that celebrate the arts.

However, he said, he also sees divisiveness and prejudice in the community.

“We do not honor the lives of people who were taken from us on 9/11 by pretending a camaraderie this day and tearing each other down the next,” Gronbach said. “In the spirit of this day and those we lost, I thank the people of our community who make it a better place with positive, constructive action. This day of remembrance, this gathering, reminds us of our burden and our duty. I challenge us all to work together to achieve it.”

Goldberg said the attacks caused the country to unite.

“That moment in time, it changed us forever,” Goldberg said. “We saw people coming together that had never come together before. First responders risked their lives to save people. There were no color barriers, no religious barriers.”

She choked up as she thought of the children who grew up without parents and the people who called their loved ones on the phone for the last time that day.

“It helps us to remember our time on earth,” she said. “We can’t measure it, so we have to do as God says and love each other.”