18 years later, the need to remember the courage, sacrifices of 9/11 still burns
They came to remember at a time when they fear too many have forgotten.
An American flag was suspended 30 feet between ladder trucks from New Kensington and Arnold volunteer fire departments at the American Legion Post 868 in Lower Burrell for a Sept. 11 ceremony Wednesday observing the 18th anniversary of the terror attacks.
A six-volley rifle salute from Post 868’s Color Guard and Marine Corps Detachment punctuated a solemn and brief ceremony featuring speeches by Post 868 Commander Ed Zollinger, Lower Burrell Mayor Rich Callender and state Rep. Bob Brooks, R-Murrysville.
Post 868’s Chaplain Paul Barton provided a prayer, Tyler McSwiggen played taps on trumpet and Lower Burrell Councilman Joe Grillo belted out a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”
About 80 first responders and residents turned out for the ceremony.
“Eighteen years later, I feel we have forgotten,” said Callender. “We have to remember the sacrifices made that day.”
Indeed, an entire generation of Americans is coming of age who weren’t even born when terrorists took control of and crashed four commercial airliners, killing nearly 3,000.
Brooks said it’s hard to forget, especially when remembering the courage and the inspiration from the stories of the heroes of Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Somerset County.
Passengers on that flight, after hearing of three other hijacked planes that were crashed into buildings, fought back against their hijackers. Their plane, which investigators later found was to be crashed into the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, instead crashed into a field. Everyone on board died.
There are those who haven’t forgotten: Chris Gott from Lower Burrell, who visited Ground Zero in New York City last week, purchased the memorial’s Flag of Honor, which he took to the Legion’s ceremony. The year before, with his first paycheck, Gott purchased a statute depicting firefighters at Ground Zero holding up an American flag.
The Lower Burrell Legion post, which has a 9/11 memorial with a section of a beam from one of the twin towers, has been honoring the anniversary since the first year after the attacks. They missed only one year when heavy storms occupied the attention of local first responders. Still then, some showed up to pay their respects to their lost brethren.
For Post 868, Zollinger said honoring first responders has just been the right thing to do.
Nicole Butler, 40, of Irwin, a paramedic with Lower Burrell Volunteer Fire Company No. 3 Ambulance, attended Wednesday’s service to keep the memory alive.
“The families of those first responders, they grieve every day,” she said.
New Kensington’s Sarelle McSwiggen, 39, an EMT for Lower Burrell Volunteer Fire Company No. 3 Ambulance, and her husband, who works for New Kensington’s ambulance service, have been attending the Legion’s service since the beginning, bringing their four children, now ages 7 to 18 years old.
“We need to teach our kids,” McSwiggen said. “They need to know the sacrifices that were made.”
Not so optimistic about the enduring memories of 9/11 were two area firefighters who helped at Ground Zero in New York City just two days after the World Trade Center towers went down.
There were no survivors to find. The remains of the victims were of a size that was shockingly small, according to Brian Gouza, 46, of Arnold.
“My son just turned 15, he knows what I told him,” said Gouza, who is an assistant fire chief for Arnold Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.
Chris Brown, 47, of Arnold, also a firefighter with Arnold Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, said, “It’s hard. People are going to move on. You can’t force it.”
Aside from ceremonies like the Legion’s and retelling their own stories, people can visit the memorial sites to remember, both men said.
It’s not just the horrific event that needs to be recalled, but the unity that emerged after it, Gouza said.
“I wish we could be the America now that we were on Sept. 12,” he said.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .