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  • Jordan D. Smith

20 Years Later: Portland Remembers 9/11 Victims and Heroes

It hardly seems that it could have been 20 years ago. A bright clear early September morning was abruptly plunged into chaos as hijacked planes were crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. At the time, the unbelievable loss of life was on such an unimaginable scale that all Americans mourned. As time has gone on the world has changed, and we now find ourselves in the midst of another national (or in this case international) disaster in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, the Portland community took the time on September 11th to look back and reflect on the lives lost and especially on the heroic first responders.

As Portland Mayor Jim Barnes noted, September 11th, 2021 was a bright clear, late summer day not unlike September 11th 20 years earlier. Gathering in Two Rivers Park, the Portland community gathered to reflect and remember. The remembrance began with a procession of local first responders in uniform led by the VFW honor guard.

After an invocation by Father Mike Alber of St. Patrick Catholic Church, Mark Ackerson of the Portland Area Fire Authority shared about the history of 9/11 memorials, especially the memorial here in Portland’s Two Rivers Park. Ackerson shared that in the days after 9/11 Portland firefighters signed up to be relief workers at ground zero in New York. “It’s some sort of weird quirk about us [firefighters] that makes us run the wrong way,” he observed. After it became clear that rescue workers would not be needed in the long term but rather recovery workers, PAFA started collecting funds for the widows and orphans fund. Out of that effort the memorial in the park was born.

Visiting state officials also joined in the memorial. State Representative Julie Callie (R-Portland) reflected that, “there are those tragedies that strike so deeply that we never forget.” In response she encouraged listeners to strive for unity as Americans did in the days after 9/11. “It’s the least we can do to honor those lost,” she said.

State Fire Marshall Kevin Schlymer reminded listeners that on 9/11 that while nearly 3000 people lost their lives that day, over 25,000 were injured and thousands more have suffered lasting health effects. This has been especially true in New York where a entire generation of first responders has been plagued by illnesses like cancer due to the exposure to the toxic substances in the dust from the collapsed towers.

As a surprise guest, Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist joined the ceremony. Lt. Governor Gilchrist encouraged those in attendance to remember and acknowledge the bravery of all first responders that leads them to, “...always step up to face danger when on our darkest days we can’t face it ourselves,” Gilchrist also implored listeners to reflect on and cherish those relationships we hold dear since 9/11 reminds us that life is always uncertain. The ceremony concluded with the laying of a memorial wreath at the Portland 9/11 memorial and the playing of Amazing Grace on bagpipes.

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Sarah Gross and the Portland Area Fire Authority.


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