First responders and others recall the events of Sept. 11, 2001, during memorial ceremony and display of the 9/11 Traveling Wall in Ocala.
Two former New York City Police Department (NYPD) members sat front and center at the 9/11 memorial service held Saturday at the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park. Included in the event was a motorcycle escort that brought the 9/11 Traveling Memorial “Never Forget” Wall to the park, where it was erected for display.
The terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, saw Flight 11 crash into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.; Flight 175 struck the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.; Flight 97 hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. and Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. after confronting their hijackers; notes the information on the wall.
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum website (911memorial.org) states the attacks and crash by the four aircraft, which were highjacked by “terrorists associated with al-Qaeda, an Islamist extremist group” caused 2,977 deaths and the loss of 441 first responders. The panels of the Memorial Wall list their names.
Lynn Davies-Dodson, an NYPD detective at the time of the 9/11 attacks and Tara Bianco, then an NYPD police officer, were both involved in helping victims and recovery at the World Trade Center.
Davies-Dodson arrived at the site just before the North Tower collapsed and helped evacuate victims from the grounds. She said the uniform she wore that day due to working on an election detail was covered with dust from the towers. She remained on duty at the site for 35 days. Davies-Dodson, 69, said she suffered from cervical cancer due to the exposure and she has a tattoo reflecting a symbol for cancer and an image of the Twin Towers. She said she is now in remission.
According to The Centers for Disease Control, since 9/11/2001 “over 71,000 people have been diagnosed with physical and mental health conditions as a result of exposure to the dust, smoke, debris, and traumatic events of 9/11.”
Bianco started duty at the World Trade Center site one day after the attacks and served on a mayor’s task force helping victim’s families visiting the site and gave them American flags.
“The heartbreak and devastation, it’s like it’s starting all over again,” Bianco said of her vivid memories of the tragedy. She said the country “rallied together” after the attacks but “people are beginning to forget.”
Others at the ceremony with a direct connection to the attacks included New York City firefighters Ken Wagner and Gary Voight.
Wagner, 64, was a firefighter and EMT when he responded to the World Trade Center. He said “it’s tough” thinking back to the tragedy. Wagner said for some first responders, only a helmet could be used for their memorial service.
Voight, 59, was off duty from Rescue 3 when he was called in to respond to the World Trade Center site, where he rescued children from a school in Building 7. Voight said it is “absolutely” important to remember the events of 9/11/2001.
Florida Army National Guard FC Kristofer Clere served as master of ceremonies for the memorial. Clere joined the Army in 2003 and served in the invasion of Iraq and earned the Combat Infantryman Badge.
The article “Why 9/11 Inspired These Service Members to Join the Military” at USO.org states, “In response (to the 9/11/2001 attacks) 181,510 Americans enlisted in the ranks of active-duty service, and 72,908 joined the enlisted reserves in the year following Sept. 11.”
Glenn Fritz who was injured and paralyzed during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 said he came out to the event to honor those lost in 9/11.
An estimated 200 riders formed the motorcycle escort into the park, among them Bruce Gonseth, commander of the Al Kreitemyer Memorial American Legion Post in Belleview, and his wife, Joellie, riding their 2008 Harley-Davidson Classic Ultra Glide.
Punishers Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club member Jimmy Bohanon said his group “always shows up” for events like the 9/11 memorial. Chris Bartoldus with the War Horse riders said the highlight of the across town escort for her was “coming under the (giant) flag” suspended from two extended firetruck ladders at the entrance to the park. Cyclist James Hansen, with the Fraternal Order of Eagles riders, was living in New York at the time of the attacks and said he had “mixed emotions” about the day. The Leathernecks USMC and Blue Knights rider groups were also part of the escort.
Landon Adams sang the national anthem. She was accompanied to the memorial by her daughter, Lily Adams, 2, and her mother Pamela Blackwelder.
Dignitaries on hand included Marion County Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Michelle Stone and Ocala City Council President James Hilty Sr.
Officials with local law enforcement and firefighting agencies addressed the gathering of perhaps 300 people. Marion County Fire Rescue Chief James Banta said he spoke with a “heavy heart” but recalled the “spirit and determination” of the first responders who worked the 9/11 site and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said “time is the greatest enemy” with the memory of the attacks beginning to disappear. He compared remembering the 9/11 attacks to the memory of Dec. 7, 1941, or Pearl Harbor Day, which ushered in World War II. Woods spoke of the citizens on Flight 93 who confronted their hijackers and caused the plane to crash in an open field rather than striking a target like the White House.
“We stand above other (nations) because of who we are,” he said.
Woods challenged those at the gathering to pass the story of 9/11 on to the next generation and said it “warmed his heart to see kids” at the memorial.
Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken gave a timeline of the 9/11 attacks and Ocala Fire Rescue Chief Clint Welborn discussed the historical use of bells by firefighters as a means of communication.
Welborn said the loss of a firefighter was signaled by four sets of five rings each on a bell, which was replicated during the ceremony to honor the first responders who died in the 9/11 rescue response.
MCSO Chaplain Vernon Phillips offered the invocation and benediction.
Near the close of the ceremony, a dispatcher message to the lost 9/11 first responders was played, uttering these words: “Until we meet again. Dispatch clear.”