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Whidbey community remembers Sept. 11
By KATHY REED
A large American flag fluttered in the breeze, suspended above the speakers at the 9/11 memorial ceremony Sunday afternoon in Windjammer Park, supported by ladder trucks from the Oak Harbor and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Fire Departments and backed up by North Whidbey Fire and Rescue.
A crowd of about 150 people, not including firefighters, turned out for the ceremony, quietly paying their respects to the 2,977 civilians, 23 New York City police officers, 37 port authority officers and 343 New York City firefighters who died in the terrorist attacks on our country 10 years earlier.
“2,977 civilians walked out the door on what they thought was a normal work day, never to walk home again,” said Sean Merrill, a battalion chief with Navy Region Northwest Fire and Emergency Services and master of ceremonies for the memorial service. “A lot has transpired since then. We’re gathered together as a community to remember that.”
The memorial was definitely a community effort. The colors were presented by Marines from the Marine Aviation Training Support Group 53 at NAS Whidbey, the National Anthem was sung by resident Sarah Reinstra, the Whidbey Island Pipe Band performed “Amazing Grace,” and speakers included Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik, North Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Marv Koorn and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station commanding officer Capt. Jay Johnston.
An emotional Capt. Johnston, who was assigned to the Pentagon at the time of the attack, shared his experiences with the crowd, pausing occasionally to hold back tears, but in the end, praising the work of the first responders and everyone involved in putting the Pentagon back together.
“It was a mess for weeks and weeks. It was a testimony to teamwork,” Johnston said. “We talk about Team Whidbey here, but I think it was Team USA back then. That may sound like a cliche, but we had first responders and urban search and rescue teams from all over the country converging on the Pentagon and I know you did the same in New York.
“Thank you for all you do,” he continued. “We witness it every day. You guys stand 24/7 watch and then some, both on the military side and the civilian side. I don’t know what they pay you, but it’s not enough, so my hat’s off to you.”
“That fateful day in 2001, the world saw the undying courage and the unfailing response of firefighters, first responders, law enforcement officers, military and citizens all working together to save other people,” Koorn said. “That morning of Sept 11, 2001, the 343 New York firefighters reported for work just expecting another day. ... As we all know, that morning was different than anything we have seen or could have imagined.”
Chief Koorn reflected on how terms like “terrorist attack” and “situational awareness” have now become part of our country’s vernacular, but that the expectations for first responders haven’t changed.
“Always remember, people look to us as first responders when all hope is lost,” he said. “Whether it’s a terrorist strike or a heart attack, they expect to see the first responders running in while others are running out.”
Sheriff Brown recalled the feeling of unity sparked by the attacks.
“I do remember how engaged citizens became immediately following Sept. 11. How they suddenly became observant in identifying suspicious behavior, how they became concerned for their neighbor’s welfare, how they developed a patriotic sentiment that reflected a feeling of solidarity as well as unity,” Brown said.
A traditional tolling of the bells followed the speakers, and two members of the Whidbey Island Pipe Band performed a bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace.” As the service came to an end, two men parachuted into the park with an American and MIA/POW flags, adding an exclamation point to the respectful, dignified memorial.