At precisely 8:46 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, a ceremony commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 began at VFW Post 10209 in Spring Hill. This time coincided with the time that the first jet crashed into the World Trade Center, commencing the worst attacks on American soil since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Like that fateful day twenty years ago, the weather was warm and the skies were clear.
Many of the hundreds of people attending the ceremony were not even born then; some were eyewitnesses to the events and lost relatives, friends, and co-workers. Probably the majority of the people saw the events unfold in real time on television, in a surreal manner, like watching scenes from a movie, not believing that this was really happening. The common feelings of everyone at the ceremony and the words of the speakers reflected sadness, horror, and pride in the first responders and other heroes of that day. There were expressions of gratitude for the service personnel who fought in the war on terror that took place in the aftermath of these events; resolve to keep this sort of event from happening again; and a sense of unity that brought the country and the world together during the days, weeks and months following these events.
Chaplain Jack Martin gave the invocation and in his welcoming remarks stated in part, “We watched in horror, but we fought back. We didn’t give up.”
After the opening remarks, representatives from the NYPD 1013 and the FDNY 343 organizations, along with those from the VFW post, posted the colors (procession of flags). This was followed by Edith Moore singing the National Anthem and John Pasquale leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
NYPD 1013 is an organization of retired New York City police officers that provides assistance to fellow retired police officers, Port Authority officers, and firefighters in receiving their benefits.
Ed Dunbar, vice-president of the Hernando County 1013 and a retired NYPD officer, explained the significance of the name 1013.
“1013 is the radio call signal indicating assistance needed by a patrol officer who’s in distress.”
The FDNY 343 organization, named for the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on September 11, helps firefighters and their families who are in need. John Lightsey, who retired in 2013, is president of the local organization. He was a radio dispatcher for the fire department in Manhattan that day and related his experiences.
“It was at the change of tours [shifts], so we had the night tour leaving and the day tour coming on. I was just starting my tour. Battalion One was drilling down the block from the World Trade Center and they called it in. It was a 2nd alarm assignment. Thirty firefighting units, made up of eight engines, five ladder trucks, several battalions, several rescue vehicles, and haz-mat [hazardous materials] companies were sent to the scene.”
After the second plane hit seventeen minutes later, the fire department transmitted a fifth alarm for the north tower and then another fifth alarm for the south tower. They needed firefighters, trucks, and equipment from all five boroughs. Lightsey spent four days straight at his post. He doesn’t recall when he slept during that time because everyone was more or less running on auto-pilot.
Another Hernando County resident who was personally touched by the events was eighty-seven-year-old John Pasquale, a twenty-year veteran of the FDNY, who had retired in 1989. He was living in Spring Hill at the time and describes what unfolded.
“My wife saw the plane hit the towers on TV. I told her that if Andrew [their son-in-law] wasn’t out of that building he’s in big trouble. ”
Sadly, Andrew Stern, who worked at the World Trade Center for Cantor Fitzgerald didn’t make it out and he died. Pasquale left Spring Hill that morning about 10:30 and drove straight to New York to be with his daughter and while he was there he worked at Ground Zero for a couple of weeks.
Ironically, Pasquale’s son, John Casey Pasquale, had just graduated from the fire academy the Saturday before and this was his first fire. Although his son made it through those days, he died four years later from the after-effects.
The 9/11 memorial program featured music sung by a chorus of children from Notre Dame Catholic School. These songs included a patriotic medley and spiritual songs such as “Let there be Peace on Earth.” Matthew Romeo sang a moving rendition of “You Raise Me Up” and Lena Pappacoda sang “God Bless America” and “Amazing Grace.”
The Notre Dame students, who of course, have no first-hand memory of September 11, 2001, learned about the events in school.
One of the students, fourth-grader Adah Stephens remarked, “I feel excited and happy [to be singing here], but sad too.”
Other young people at the ceremony who also did not have a personal recollection of those events were a group of Fire Cadets. These young men and women learn the rules and protocol of the fire department and are all certified in CPR. A person has to be fourteen to join the cadets and when they’re sixteen years of age they’re allowed to go on “ride-alongs.”
Fifteen-year-olds Zoe Campos and Anthony Alleva have been in the cadet program for only a few months. Zoe wants to be an EMT and Anthony plans to become a firefighter. Thomas Hirchak also wants to join the fire department. Zachary White, the oldest of the group at seventeen, has been a cadet for two years and plans to be a firefighter and an EMT. It was Zachary who read aloud the Fireman’s Prayer.
Sheriff Al Nienhuis made a few remarks, recounting one of Aesop’s fables about the sheep, the sheepdogs, and the wolves. The wolves told the sheep that if they sent the guard dogs away, there would be peace, so the sheep sent the dogs away. That night the wolves attacked and slaughtered the sheep. The moral to this story is don’t give up your friends for your foes.
“Your law enforcement, firefighters, and military try their best to protect us. It’s important to appreciate these guardians and we appreciate the public’s support and prayers,” Nienhuis stated.
Hernando County Fire Chief, Scott Hechler, brought up the fact that PTSD is rampant among those who aided at Ground Zero.
“It was a defining moment for who we were then and who we should be today – a people united in love for our country and our fellow Americans, not a people divided by any line that can be drawn.”
Besides remembering the events of 9/11, another purpose of the ceremony was to unveil a statue in honor of Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar living in New York City, who rushed to Ground Zero to minister to the victims and the first responders. Father Judge was in the lobby of the north tower and was killed by flying debris from the collapse of the south tower. He has been recognized as the first victim of 9/11. Gaye Hieb, the chaplain for the VFW Post 10209 Auxiliary and a lay Franciscan minister, told about Judge’s life and his legacy.
One of the most somber parts of Saturday’s ceremony was the four tolls of the fire bell in memory of the firefighters who perished. This tradition signifies the death of a firefighter.
As many of the speakers reiterated, September 11, 2001, was a defining day in our country’s history. We will always remember the people who died in New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Also, we will never forget those who have died in the years since as a result of those events – civilians, first responders, and military personnel. We must always appreciate our freedoms and protect those freedoms in every way possible.