The West End remembers 9/11
Rich Hoffman told the crowd at the Gilbert American Legion Post 927's 9/11 Candlelight program he was in anti-terroism school when the planes hit the Twin Towers in an act of terrorism.
In her opening remarks, Donna Dee Krych, of the Gilbert American Legion Post 927 Ladies Auxiliary and organizer of the 9/11 Candlelight Program, welcomed everyone. She talked about how out of the rubble of the Twin Towers a memorial now stands. "Today we are not only a nation, but a nation transformed."
Tom W. Franklin, Post 927's commander, introduced each of the four speakers, Senator Pat Browne, James W. Mills, Jr., Rep. Mike Carroll and Rich Hoffman.
Senator Pat Browne thanked the American Legion Post 927 in Gilbert for inviting him to the candlelight ceremony "commemorating the 10th anniversary of one of the darkest days in our nation's history."
"The events of September 11, 2001 have joined Pearl Harbor as one of those landmark events in the lives of all Americans." Many of the lives lost had ties to Pennsylvanians "and their loss will never be forgotten."
"And we must never forget the heroic efforts of the passengers of Flight 93 who, showing incredible courage, fought terrorism in the skies above Somerset County. When the crew and passengers of Flight 93 learned that their hijacked plane was also part of the terrorists' murderous plans, they fought back. And with that, we again learned that America is made up of ordinary people who are capable of doing extraordinary things."
He called the thousands of firefighters, emergency responders, doctors, nurses and many others from communities across the Commonwealth who volunteered their time and efforts to assist in the recovery efforts in New York, Washington, and here in Pennsylvania ... heroes.
He recalled that pleasant warm September morning.
"Little did anyone know, as we enjoyed our morning coffee or made our ways off to work and school, how dark and cold the day would become, calling the plane crashes as "the actions of evil men into guided missiles."
"As we watched the unfolding tragedy that day, we felt the icy touch of evil upon the soul of our great nation. The World Trade Center Towers proudly symbolized our commerce and our economy. They were tangible symbols of America as a land of opportunity. Those towers were the first sign of New York you saw no matter whether you approached the city by land, sea or air. By attacking the trade center, the terrorists believed they could destroy our economy and our way of life.
"They were wrong. Life quickly returned to all but the immediate areas around Ground Zero and America is still open for business. The Pentagon with its miles of interlocking corridors and solid walls is truly a symbol of our military strength. The terrorists damaged the building, but our military stood up to the attack -- just as it has time and again throughout its proud history. And now we stand 10 years later and we still wonder what kind of hatred could motivate a few twisted men to take thousands of innocent lives.
"We have collectively mourned, and comforted each other since September 11, 2001 and I believe we have emerged stronger, more unified and more determined than ever to protect the freedoms that we enjoy and to never take them for granted.
"If our sense of security was shaken by the terrorist attacks, our confidence that our sacred American virtues were strengthened and will always prevail in the face of tyranny. If the attacks proved that there are people in the world who hate us and our way of life, the response proved that as Americans, we cherish the fruits and promises of liberty that much more.
"Ladies and Gentleman, on behalf of your state senate, joining with you on this solemn anniversary, we continue to stand united in remembrance of all those whom we lost and rededicated to preserving their legacy as a permanent memorial to them and the country they loved so much."
Guest speaker James W. Mills, Jr., a paramedic with the New York City Fire Department, Emergency Medical Service for the last 16 years, spoke with a lot of emotion about how he finished his shift that morning at 6 a.m., went home, had breakfast with his wife, then watched with horror as the event took place before his eyes on television. He tried phoning in to work but couldn't get through. That evening, he packed a bag and said good-bye to his family and headed back into the city, not knowing when, or if, he would see them again. He and another first responder were given a police escort into the city on a deserted Rt. 80. He'll always remember arriving at his station, seeing his coworkers covered in dust and learning one of his co-workers and friend, went in the second tower to find his wife but didn't come back out. He still hears the sound of people cheering as his ambulance drove down the streets toward the two billows of smoke
"I will never question our patriotism of those who wear our colors. I'll never forget."
Rep. Carroll said it was "vitally important to remember what happened 10 years ago." He praised all the first responders who were there on 9/11. "I saw first hand as first responders knocked on doors to our recent flood victims. They've worked unrelenting for the last five days. So it's very important that we remember the first responders."
SSG. Rich Hoffman, having served in the United States Marine Corps from 1974-1975 and the United States Army from 1986 to the present, told the crowd how ironic it was that he was in antiterrorism school when 9/11 happened.
"I had never heard of Bin Ladden," he said.
He saw the smoke from the Twin Towers from the George Washington Bridge. He pointed to some firefighters and police in the audience and said, "You are all heroes."
He added that 9/11 has not ended yet. "We're still losing Americans over there. We've got to stop that."
He introduced a video that was played for all to see. It was a collage of pictures from 9/11 and the days that followed to the new memorial, made by Donna Dee and Tony Krych, accompanied by a song written by Hoffman and recorded by his band, "The Ryde" titled "September Morning Tuesday."
Kim Rutledge sang the "National Anthem" and "God Bless America."
The Rev. Michael Eckroth of Salem UCC gave the opening prayer and the Rev. Jim Mills gave the closing prayer. Both asked for prayers for the families of those who lost their lives that day.
In the final moments of the ceremony, the Post 927 Auxiliary Glee Club sang "Amazing Grace" as candles were lit while lights flashed from the fire trucks from West End, Polk, Kunkletown, Penn Forrest Vol. Fire Companies and West End Ambulance. A bell tolled 10 times, one for each year since 9/11. The solemn sound of trumpet notes of "Taps" echoed over the crowd, the colors retired, and this little corner of America remembered.