Community members joined emergency responders and government officials in front of Vancouver City Hall on Wednesday to mark the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to honor the 3,000 people who died.
About 100 people gathered for this year’s Patriot Day Salute, which included speeches by Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Fire Department Division Chief Tom O’Connor and Assistant Police Chief Mike Lester among others.
Many of the speakers in Vancouver and officials in Camas at a ceremony earlier in the morning touched on the passage of time, the nearly two decades since the terrorist attacks changed the nation, and their desires to keep the memory of the people who were killed alive. Unlike those who witnessed the turmoil unfold, students graduating high school this school year only know what teachers, family and friends have passed on, they said.
“Ask people, and many will recall exactly where they were that day … I was in school, and it makes me think of the challenge of explaining to children what happened. We will stand shoulder to shoulder for what is right and what is just,” said McEnerny-Ogle.
A community wreath was placed at the flagpole in front of City Hall, and 51 doves, led by a spirit dove, were released in honor of U.S. states. Master of ceremonies, retired Army Col. Larry J. Smith, told the crowd the doves also represent fellowship and “all that is good in the world.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four planes. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York City, causing the towers to catch fire and collapse. Another plane destroyed part of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa. The attacks were carried out by 19 men associated with the terrorist group al-Qaida.
O’Connor said both he and his brother are military veterans. Upon leaving the military, he said he chose to work at the fire department while his brother went on to have a successful career in finance on the East Coast. Several of his brother’s classmates died on 9/11, he said.
“Given our career choices, I never would have guessed that my brother would be the one attending funerals of friends,” O’Connor said. “Hindsight has given us clarity about what happened on 9/11. But to truly honor the people who died, we must never forget the circumstances” and the fear everyone must have felt.
O’Connor then shared the names of 14 cadets graduating from the New York City Fire Department Academy next week, all of whom had fathers who died in the attacks.
“That class graduates next week,” he said, and the crowd applauded. “Duty. Honor. Sacrifice. Never forget.”
Vancouver Police Assistant Chief Mike Lester shared the story of Officer James Nelson, who was employed at the Port Authority of New York. Nelson died when he was evacuating workers from the 27th floor of one of the two towers when it collapsed. Lester noted Nelson’s story is one of thousands, and there are more still as others continue to deal with aftereffects.
“For those who survived the attacks, they still suffer today, for the loss of their loved ones, and for some the loss of their health due to the various unknown toxins that they were exposed to,” the assistant police chief said. “The suffering continues today, and therefore, the remembrance and healing must continue.”
The collapse of the trade center’s twin towers produced thick dust clouds, and fires burned for months in the rubble. Many rescue and recovery workers later developed respiratory and digestive system ailments potentially linked to inhaled and swallowed dust. Some were diagnosed with other illnesses, including cancer, the Associated Press reported.
Over 51,000 people have applied to a victims compensation fund that makes payments to people with illnesses potentially related to 9/11; it has awarded over $5.5 billion so far. After impassioned advocacy, lawmakers this summer ensured the money won’t run out, according to AP.
In Camas, the Camas-Washougal Fire Department held a brief remembrance ceremony in front of Camas City Hall at 7:30 a.m. A fire bell was rung three, four and three times to represent the 343 firefighters who died in the attacks.
“The event may be fading from memory but we’ll work to keep it alive,” CWFD Chief Nick Swinhart told a crowd of about 50 people.
Washougal resident Dixie Brown, a retired 911 operator and mother to Camas-Washougal Fire Department Capt. Michael Brown, lamented that she believes a lot of young people don’t understand the significance of what happened 18 years ago.
“My granddaughter is here. She’s a child, but I’ve tried to make sure she knows about what happened and what it meant to us as a country.”