Most of us say "thanks" without thinking.
Sept. 13--The American flag flying from the fully extended ladder of New Haven Hose Company's truck soared above Arch Street. The flag at Connellsville City Hall flew at half-staff. Both were perfect symbols to remember the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Each year since 2002, the Connellsville Veterans Commission has hosted a Patriot Day program. On Saturday, more than 60 people, including police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel, took time to remember.
Fayette County District Attorney Jack Heneks Jr. and Connellsville Council members Yvonne Rush and Tom Karpiak joined the crowd.
A handful of young children attended -- children who have known nothing but a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.
Master of ceremonies Gerald Browell narrated the events that took place on a Tuesday morning the ceremony urged all never to forget. A bell rang each time Browell finished noting one of the four airline crashes that occurred that day.
"It began in New York City, at 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into World Trade Center North Tower," Browell said. "Seventeen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. At 9:59, the World Trade South Tower collapsed. At 10:06, a fourth airplane, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed less than 50 miles from where we're standing, in a field near Shanksville. The death toll was nearly 3,000 on that day, people from 95 different nations and territories.
"We must never forget the police, firefighters and emergency personnel who gave their lives," Browell added, saying Americans must be committed to ridding the world of terrorism and must never forget the "young Americans who sacrificed their tomorrows that ours may be free. We must never forget freedom is bought with the lives and blood of patriots. Freedom shall and must endure."
The Connellsville Area High School Band, under the direction of Tim Martin, played the national anthem.
The Rev. Beverly Gross, pastor of Albright United Methodist Church in Connellsville, offered an opening prayer.
Tom McFadden, secretary of the Veterans Commission, repeated that Americans must never forget Sept. 11 and that "freedom is never free."
The band played "Each Time You Tell Their Story" by Sam Hazo, written as a tribute to fallen heroes.
Tod Conner II, Fayette County veterans affairs director, was keynote speaker. He said more than 14,000 veterans live in the county, and their numbers are increasing with those returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Emerging Freedom. He told those and all veterans: "Thank you. I'd also like to thank the families. A lot of times what kept us going was knowing we had families waiting for us."
Conner told the crowd: "It's our duty to keep this fresh, the sacrifices those who went before us and those who come after." During his time with the Marine Corps in Kuwait, "I remember having Jolly Ranchers mailed to me, and a letter could make your day."
He said the Veterans Commission was not seeing the expected number of young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. "There are all sorts of benefits. There's help," he said. "We don't want to miss them."
The band played "America the Beautiful" as arranged by Robert Smith.
The siren of a Fayette EMS ambulance on its way to a patient emergency sounded as Conner finished -- a reminder that those emergency responders who lost their lives nine years ago were part of a community that continues to serve selflessly every day throughout the country.
The honor guard offered a rifle salute. Band members Jimmy Peperak and T.J. Hogan played taps and its echo.
"We look to war as being overseas somewhere," McFadden said. "It's not. It's here in Connellsville. Police, fire, EMTs put their lives on the line every day. We are here to pay a final tribute to our departed comrades."
Gross ended the ceremony with a prayer of hope: "From the ashes, will continue to rise a new spirit of unity in America. Love will always conquer hate. Give us the courage to face the evil that comes. May we continue to see a vision for tomorrow, that this country will be united with those all around the world."
Judy Kroeger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3538.
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