On the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shook the nation on September 11, the Veterans of Foreign Wars hosted a memorial honoring those who lost their lives in the tragedy. Government officials, the fire department, law enforcement, veterans, and the public gathered at the VFW SSG MICHAEL WAYNE SCHAFER MEMORIAL Post off Anderson Snow Road on Monday morning to honor those brave men and women.
A commitment was made by the American people after that fateful day to never forget the heinous deeds and those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. This event was one of many held across the country to uphold that promise. As Hernando County Fire Department Chief Paul Hasenmeier stated, “that was a day that will live on in America’s history forever.”
Speakers included Chief Hasenmeier, Congressman Gus Bilirakis, former FDNY Firefighter Joe Holland, and Hernando County Fire Rescue Captain Sean Moulton among others. The distinguished guests took the opportunity to discuss the gravity of the disaster, the resolve of the American spirit, and the victims who lost their lives.
“Yes, 9/11 revealed who we are as a people and what we value,” Congressman Bilirakis said. “Our enemies sought to destroy our way of life. They still are trying to destroy our way of life, but we’re not going to let it happen. Instead, they discovered the depths of our resiliency, the strength of our resolve, and our unwavering commitment to one another. We must never lose this.”
2,977 innocent lives were lost on that day and the days following as a result of the evil attacks, but the resilience shown in the aftermath was stronger than the hate that fueled the terrorists. There was a groundswell of patriotism that united the 50 states that do not often see eye to eye. Enlistment spiked with 181,510 Americans enlisting in active-duty service and more than 72,000 joined the enlisted reserves in the year following the towers’ destruction.
While John Lightsey was brainstorming how the VFW was going to honor the heroes at the event, the initial idea of enumerating the statistics of the attack was foregone in favor of a more visceral presentation. Upon arrival at Monday’s gathering, attendees were given a picture of one of the fallen and encouraged to keep and research the individual. This way, the victims’ stories can live on and be impactful in others’ lives. Before his speech, Captain Sean Moulton received and researched the information of one of the first responders who tragically lost his life.
“[Firefighter Martin DeMeo] went into that south tower and was assigned to be on the twelfth floor to assist in people getting out of the south tower,” Captain Moulton said. “[DeMeo] is representative of most everybody that was in those buildings that day. Some that gave their lives and some that lost their lives trying to get out of that darn place… He was a father. He was 47 years old. He was a father of two children and a devoted husband.”
The morning was highlighted by a handful of performances, which included Amazing Grace by Bagpiper Victor McGregor and a pair of songs by students from Notre Dame Catholic School. It was also an educational opportunity for these elementary school students, who will be the future leaders of America, to learn about this transformative moment in the country’s history.
Later in the proceedings, the sound of a bell rang out over the still morning air as part of the “Striking of the Four Fives,” a tradition significant to firefighters. As the bell tolled in honor of those who lost their lives, it emphasized yet again the importance of the hard-fought freedoms thousands of servicemen and women have fought for throughout our nation’s history.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” said Congressman Bilirakis echoing late President Ronald Reagan. “We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”