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Whidbey firefighters and sailors remember Sept. 11
Elected officials, community leaders, police officers and residents joined firefighters from Oak Harbor and North Whidbey to remember their fellow rescue workers who perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
While a small ceremony was held on Whidbey Naval Air Station, the Oak Harbor Fire Department hosted a remembrance ceremony Tuesday morning to mark the 11th anniversary of tragedy.
“We’re here today to remember and commemorate the events of Sept. 11,” North Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Marv Koorn said. “Three hundred and forty-three New York firefighters rushed into the buildings and paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
About 30 people, including state Reps. Barbara Bailey and Norma Smith and state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, attended the Tuesday morning event that took place as students walked to North Whidbey Middle School across the street.
Oak Harbor Fire Department Chaplain Ron Hancock suspected everyone knew where they were during the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He noted he was in a fire station the day of the attack. He would later visit New York City, representing the fire departments on Whidbey Island.
He took time to tell the somber crowd that the day also marked a time to evaluate their lives.
“We need to live lives in an honorable way,” Hancock said, adding later in his invocation that he challenged the crowd to seriously think about where they are at spiritually.
Haugen said every time she thinks about the attacks, she remembers the firefighters who were running into the World Trade Center.
Bailey said she was struck by the names of the people who died.
“It is a moment in time that will be etched in our minds,” Bailey said.
Lt. Don Baer of the Oak Harbor Fire Department started the ceremony by trumpeting “Taps” while a large American Flag was unfurled from the department’s ladder truck that was parked in front of the Whidbey Avenue station.
Oak Harbor Fire Department Firefighters Andrew Carroll and Shannon Holcomb conducted a bell ceremony to remember firefighters who sacrificed their lives and a color guard from the Oak Harbor NJROTC detachment was present Tuesday morning.
The Oak Harbor Fire Department ceremony wasn’t the only occasion marking 9/11. Whidbey Island Naval Air Station also held a ceremony Tuesday morning in front of the Ault Field Command Building.
“This was a defining day to our generation, much like others remember Pearl Harbor,” said NAS Whidbey Island Fire Department Battalion Chief Sean Merrill.
“Those 343 were the chosen ones,” Merrill continued. “They knew they faced a bad situation and they went anyway. That’s what makes them so special.”
A small group of sailors and civilians gathered for the base’s remembrance ceremony, which included the tolling of the bell, a signal of honor and respect among firefighters. A moment of silence was observed before firefighters Jeff Porter and Erik Andersen hoisted the American flag and the National Anthem was broadcast over the public address system.
Following the ceremony, Fire Inspector Alan Sprouse said the day has come to mean different things to different people.
“For some, it’s more celebratory, while others are still mourning the losses,” he said.
“It’s a day of reflection,” agreed Merrill. “It’s a day to make sure you kiss your wife and your kid before you leave for work; to thank the brothers you see in the house and to remember why you do what you do.”
“It’s one of those days you know is coming and you remember those who sacrificed their lives,” said Battalion Chief Jeff Daniels.
From anti-terrorism training courses to carrying anthrax kits, firefighters feel the impact of 9/11 every day, along with the rest of the country.
“It’s changed the world forever,” said Sprouse. “It will never be the same.”
— Staff reporter Kathy Reed contributed to this story.