This year’s Patriot Day commemoration at Vancouver City Hall, honoring those who lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, included a special gift to the city’s first responders.
Near the conclusion of the ceremony Sunday morning, Fire Chief Joe Molina and Police Chief James McElvain unveiled a stained glass artwork depicting the iconic moment when New York City firefighters raised an American flag at ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001. The glass piece was created by New York native and military veteran Gerald Siegel, who now lives in Woodland.
Siegel told the more than 100 people in attendance that working on the stained glass image in the days that followed 9/11 helped him process his anger about the attacks, and to heal.
“I became vengeful,” Siegel said. “It was with this glass that I was able to lay down my vengeance, my hate and my disgust.”
Fifteen years later, he decided to give the glass piece to the city of Vancouver as a way to honor first responders, Siegel said. Molina said it likely will be displayed in one of the Vancouver Fire Department’s new fire stations.
Gratitude for the nation’s first responders was expressed throughout the ceremony, which included performances of the national anthem, “God Bless America,” “Amazing Grace” and taps, as well as a rifle salute, honor guard, wreath presentation, fire-bell ringing, prayers and the release of live doves. Members of the American Legion Riders stood solemnly around the perimeter of the event, each holding an American flag.
“Today we pause and recognize all first responders and honor their commitment to serve and protect,” McElvain said, as well as remember all of the victims of 9/11.
Former City Councilor Larry Smith, co-chair of the Community Military Appreciation Committee, gave the death toll of the attacks that day when hijacked commercial airplanes crashed in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania: 2,977 dead. Of those killed, 343 were firefighters, 23 were police officers and 37 were port officers. The victims’ ages ranged from 2 to 85, he said.
Vancouver Mayor Pro Tem, Anne McEnerny-Ogle, called the attacks the deadliest day in American law enforcement history and a senseless act of terrorism. As she spoke, the sound of fighter jets overhead made her pause. The crowd clapped as the planes shot across the blue sky.
Later, Smith explained that they were from the 123rd Fighter Squadron, a Portland-based unit of the National Guard that has patrolled the local skies daily since 9/11.
Other 9/11 remembrances took place around the region Sunday, including in Hockinson. There, Clark County Chair Marc Boldt joined the county’s Fire District 3 in placing a wreath at the flag pole at Station 31. Hundreds of small American flags also were placed on the station’s front lawn.
At the Vancouver ceremony, Molina recounted the story of six firefighters who took their Ladder 118 rig across the Brooklyn Bridge 15 years ago on the morning of Sept. 11. They were firefighters with big personalities: a singer, a cook, a proud dad of two toddlers, a guy who loved to talk politics.
Once on scene, they ran inside the Marriott World Trade Center hotel and up the stairs, helping people evacuate.
“These were the men who bravely entered the fray,” Molina said. “They were never seen alive again.”
Months later, tools from Ladder 118 firefighters were found side-by-side in the rubble at ground zero, Molina said.
“These men will never be forgotten,” he said. “We can’t let that happen.”