As communities across the nation gathered in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on America, the emotionally-charged gatherings shared a common theme: unity.
Flagler Beach – Love I’ve Never Experienced Again
“The Knights of Columbus is built on four principles: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism, and so we give back to the church, the community. A lot of our members are from the northeast and have a special remembrance of that day, where they were and friends that were involved both tragically and in the rescue effort,” said Michael Boullion, communications chair for the Knights of Columbus Notre Dame Council 10514, in Flagler Beach.
Residents of the beachside community and members of the Santa Maria del Mar parish began gathering a little after 7:30 a.m. at the Flagler Beach Municipal Pier to commiserate.
Kevin Ryan, district deputy for the Knights of Columbus, started the memorial service nearly two decades ago just after the events of 9/11, and as he walked among the crowd offering roses, he spoke of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
“This council is comprised of many police and fire, many people that witnessed and helped out on September 11th in New York City,” said Ryan, who shared that he too lost friends that day. “We should never forget. The bottom line is that we came back from this stronger than ever and we should never forget that we have that strength.”
As for tomorrow?
“Patriotism is a gift and you live in a country that is truly free. Cherish that forever and don’t ever let that freedom die,” he said.
First Hand: Major Irna Padilla
Surrounded by her 94-year old father Hiram A. Miranda, and her sister Iris Miranda, the ceremony’s keynote speaker Major Irna Padilla was stationed at the Salvation Army Brooklyn Sunset Park, Eastern Territory location in New York on 9/11.
A day she’ll never forget.
Working for the Salvation Army, the morning began with a phone call from a soldier that Padilla angrily thought was a joke. As the soldier broke into tears, she knew it was real.
“We were thinking we had to be there. We were at war,” she said.
“I grabbed my bag, pulled into action and ran to the pier to see if he was joking. There were hundreds of people crying on the pier, screaming for their loved ones. That’s when the first tower went down, right in front of my face.”
Sharing a personal story, Padilla recalled her 13-year old son helping at Ground Zero, harrowing moments her family has never forgotten.
“We actually had to go down with our twins and they were very affected. A very bad part of it was that the military with their boots had gone in the pit and their boots actually melted onto their feet. So my son had helped some of the soldiers get their boots off and their socks (had) melted onto their skin. Their feet were bleeding and as that was happening he came running to me and said mom, we need socks. The tears in his eyes, that’s when I had my first meltdown.”
She’s never kept in contact with those they helped over the 10-day deployment, and while the trauma has been deep, Padilla says so was the love for each other as human beings.
“20 years later we still have PTSD. We still smell the smells. We can’t go back to the site. We’ve never gone back.”
“There were no names, there was no race, there was no color. It was beautiful. I wish, I just pray every day that that love could come back because it was a love that I’ve never experienced again,” she said.
Humbled by his first ceremony in Flagler Beach city manager William Whitson took part by playing TAPS for the assembled.
“I’m without words today. It’s just such a solemn occasion and I clearly remember 20 years ago where I was and what I was doing,” said Whitson, serving in the City of Port Orange at the time.
“The city just came to a halt,” he recalled. “This was an event that affected everyone, and I don’t think that we’ll ever forget.”
Reflecting on the events of September 11, 2001 and the current geopolitical situation, Flagler County Commissioner and retired U.S. Navy Captain David Sullivan candidly shared his disappointment.
“There’s nothing more important than us remembering what happened on 9/11. I can remember where I was. I was in Washington just outside Dulles Airport and then to follow that up, my son did his tours in Afghanistan, including flying combat missions out of Bagram Air Base,” said Sullivan.
“That’s really the connection – we were there because of what happened on 9/11 and think about where we are now. We’ve got the leaders of the terrorists who tried to kill us, now heading Afghanistan. I don’t want to get too political but there is a connection and this is a terrible way for the United States to celebrate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, by what’s happened now in Afghanistan.”
Stationed in Germany during the September 11th attacks, Lt. Col. Gui DeLuca, thought it was a training exercise before realization hit home.
“Disbelief is probably what I would call it. And then you can’t believe somebody would target the United States. We thought we were protected but we’re not,” he said, offering solemn words for tomorrow.
“I hope the next generation just realizes it’s great to be an American. We live in the best country in the world and I want them to be proud to be an American.”
Palm Coast – There’s No One Else to Call
The sound of the bell at each milestone moment brought a chill as Elks Exalted Ruler John Clouser and guests of the Elks Club #2709 in Palm Coast held their memorial service early Saturday morning.
Joining Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin as a speaker, Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen praised the virtues of heroism, while Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly spoke of the future. It was the words of Flagler County Fire Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Lenny Ensalaco that truly put the day in perspective.
“Yeah, we’re 911, but there is no 912. When we’re overwhelmed, and we’re at our capacity, capability of what we can do, there’s no one else to call,” he said. “We just have to get through it.”
Of the 30,000 lives saved on September 11, 2001, Ensalaco estimated that 87 people were saved by each one of the 344 firefighters lost that day.
Patches displayed proudly on the arms of the retired firefighters and law enforcement officers who call the Elks Club their home away from home, spoke to the diversity of the unified brotherhood as they sat shoulder to shoulder before the twisted metal permanently on display from Ground Zero, declaring each and all would never forget.
Bunnell – Let’s Ride
For retired Connecticut firefighter Joe Vece, organizing the 9/11 Memorial Ride as a member of the Knights of the Inferno, Palm Coast motorcycle club, each year isn’t an obligation. It’s a labor of love. It’s free to participate, made so by the generous sponsorship of local attorney Michael Politis of Politis & Matovina, supported by Flagler County, on the steps of the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center, and the law enforcement motorcycle club, Punishers Florida, Flagler Chapter.
“I knew a lot of the people in the New York fire department, and living here in Palm Coast, there’s a lot of New York fire department people here that I’m very close friends with,” explained Vece.
“They were at 9/11 and lost a lot of their friends, and I just, it was a terrible tragedy and really hit home with me being a firefighter. I just said I’ll never forget this. Everybody was doing fundraisers, and so I said we’ll do a memorial. Memorials are from the heart. We don’t charge for this, no money involved. This is what it’s all about, and the people that are here are here for the right reason.”
With approximately 1,180 motorcycles ready to ride from all across the state, it’s Flagler’s largest gathering in remembrance of the national day of mourning.
“This is our 15th year doing this and as you can see by the amount of people that are here, we’ll never forget,” said Vece.
Singing the Star Spangled Banner to open the ceremony, Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Commander Kenny Goncalves reiterated his gratitude for the public’s support of first responders.
“By the amount of people that are here and the turnout you know for a fact that even after 20 years, we still don’t forget what happened on 9/11 to this great nation,” said Goncalves. “This is very important to any first responder to see the support that the public shows us. We like it and feel appreciated.”
Representing firefighters, police and EMT’s, a prayer was read by a member of each profession during the ceremony, and a memorial flag was brought to the event by Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins.
But it was a heartfelt moment when Flagler County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien shared a story about his own hometown of Seaford on Long Island, New York and the impact September 11, 2001 had on members of the community, with the story of the Haskell brothers and the lady bug, that brought tears to even the most jaded eye.
“Let us never forget,” said O’Brien, his voice catching with emotion as he spoke the words.
Before taking off on the memorial ride with his wife Tammy, retired firefighter John Krieger hoped the nation could once again bring back a spirit of unity as Americans.
“I’m a past firefighter for 20 years and it’s very sad what everybody went through on 9/11 at the three locations. This is just a great remembrance of what our country’s about,” he said. “I think it’s the togetherness that happened after 9/11 and we’re missing that today in this country.”