Bagpipes blared, doves took flight and fighter jets roared by overhead as Vancouver and Clark County residents commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in a ceremony held Saturday morning at the city’s Waterfront Park.
The event, hosted by the city and the Community Military Appreciation Committee, kicked off at 9 a.m. when committee co-chair retired Col. Larry J. Smith stepped up to the podium to welcome the crowd of roughly 400 people that had gathered at the park’s main field and on the surrounding sidewalks.
Following an invocation from Vancouver Fire Department Chaplain Peter Schrater and a blessing and memorial song from members of the Chinook Indian Nation, Smith recounted the timeline of events on the morning of the attack, pausing momentarily as four F-15 aircraft from the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Wing flew low over the site.
Vancouver mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle urged the crowd to remember the first responders and others who died as they worked to evacuate the World Trade Center and put out the fires during the attacks, as well as troops who fought and died in the Afghanistan War.
“It is a rare person who can give up so much so that others can live safe and secure, and we salute them,” she said.
Vancouver Fire Department division chief Tom O’Connor spoke about the 9/11 first responders who died in subsequent years – and who are still dying – of illnesses stemming from dust and smoke inhalation during the attacks.
Vancouver assistant police chief Troy Price urged the crowd to remember the spirit of national unity that Americans felt on the evening following the attacks, and Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring recounted the shocking impact of the attacks and echoed calls to remember first responders and troops who served in Afghanistan.
State Sen. Annette Cleveland, who lived in Baltimore, Md., in 2001, recalled her experience hearing about the attacks on the radio while driving and then struggling to get in touch with her family members, and her shock when the Federal Aviation Administration took the unprecedented step of grounding all planes in U.S. airspace.
Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck spoke about how historic national events become seared into the memories of people who experience them, and said he remembered the events of his life on Sept. 11 with the same kind of clarity with which he could recall the Apollo 11 moon landing and the news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The anniversary of 9/11 marks an occasion to remember not only the attacks themselves but the ripple effect they created in the past 20 years, he said, adding that troops who lost their lives in Afghanistan were indirectly victims of the attacks as well, and that their families are, in a fashion, also survivors.
“Their pain is real and present,” he said. “It is now, it is today.”
The commemoration closed with a series of ceremonies including a release of doves from onboard the historic World War II-era PT 658 boat in the Columbia River and a traditional “final alarm” ceremony from the Vancouver Fire Department, ringing a bell to signify the end of a fallen firefighter’s last call.