For some, it happened literally a lifetime ago. For others, it’s still so fresh they feel their emotions as strongly as they did two decades ago.
Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, an unprecedented day that saw the United States assaulted on her home soil. Suicide attacks plowed a jumbo jet into the Pentagon, saw the passengers of Flight 93 rally and give their lives to prevent another from hitting its target, and then the impossible happened.
Both the towers at the World Trade Center collapsed.
With the burning wreckage of two commercial jetliners embedded in the twin towers, it was New York City’s first responder community that rallied. And for 412 of them, including 343 firefighters, their rescue attempts were their last heroic acts.
“We must always remember,” said Nancy Guarino, who said she felt compelled to attend Saturday’s 9/11 ceremony hosted by the Laramie Fire Department at the intersection of 4th Street and Ivinson Avenue.
“I was working, and it was horrible,” Guarino said she recalls of the attacks. “I remember just being in shock and thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ It was unbelievable. Life had just changed.”
Shift Cmdr. Michael Hotchkiss led the short, simple ceremony.
It would be three years before he became a firefighter, but he recalls watching them in action on 9/11 and in the aftermath, “and I marveled at the courage.”
Now two decades removed and 17 years into his career as a firefighter, Hotchkiss said his perspective on responders and 9/11 has changed.
“Now I marvel at the sacrifices they make day in and day out,” he said.
First responders miss birthday parties, graduations, holidays and other important personal events to help others in their darkest moments.
“They sacrifice pieces of themselves with every tragic call they respond to,” Hothkiss said.
Chris Ballou was 10 on Sept. 11, 2001, and said he remembers the attacks from the perspective of a kid.
“I remember the wake-up and going to school that day,” he said.
At school, the kids were pulled out of class and spent the day doing other things and trying to grasp what was happening. They knew it was something important, but couldn’t fully appreciate it, he said.
Saturday was the first time he attended a commemoration of the 9/11 attacks. And he also was pleased to see the crowd of about 200 included many children.
“I think it’s important to do (these remembrances) as the years go on,” Ballou said. “It’s incredible how many young kids were here today.”
Lisa Harris said she also remembers the attacks and how they galvanized the nation to be more unified. Now two decades later, she said that’s given way to some deep divisions.
“We’re in a situation now where people are not as respectful of first responders,” she said.
As the American flag was raised, a small, quiet voice — almost a whisper — was overheard: “Daddy, why are we here?”