By William K. Alcorn
On a bright, sunny, beautiful Sunday afternoon, people from around the Mahoning Valley gathered to remember one of the nation’s darkest days, Sept. 11, 2001, when the United States was attacked by terrorists using hijacked commercial planes as weapons.
On that fateful day, known as 9/11, terrorists flew two commercial planes into New York City’s World Trade Center buildings and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Passengers of a fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, believed to be destined for another target in Washington, sacrificed their own lives by fighting the terrorists in the cockpit, causing the plane to crash in a field near Shanksville, Pa., and killing all aboard.
“Today is a day to remember those who died in the 9/11 attacks and to show our love and respect for every emergency responder in the country. Lifesavers, that’s what they are,” said former Ohio Sen. Harry Meshel, guest speaker for the Mahoning Valley 9-11 Memorial’s 15th anniversary ceremony in Austintown.
“This should be a memorial day when we educate people about what happened on 9/11,” said Meshel, who served the area for 23 years in the Ohio Senate and in the Naval Construction Battalion, or SeeBees, during World War II in the Pacific Theater.
“We have to support our local and state governments and continue paying tribute to anyone who has served in any capacity, be they police, firefighters, nurses, emergency responders or military,” Meshel said.
“The attack on the United States 15 years ago was an unimaginable tragedy. But through it all, people helped each other and became stronger,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti,
The Mahoning Valley 9-11 Memorial, which Traficanti called “one of the most beautiful in the nation,” said it “makes us remember who we are and what we stand for, and that we should respect each and everyone who put their lives on the line for us every day.”
A highlight of the ceremony was the unveiling by internationally known local artist Raymond Simon of his painting “Reflection of Freedom,” which depicts a man and a grieving woman at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. She is symbolic of all those who have sacrificed their lives in the fight against terrorism, Simon said.
The artist said his painting “embraces America’s resolve since her conception in the ongoing fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
At the bottom of the frame, Simon placed a President Harry Truman quote: “American was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
Simon’s painting has been accepted by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City and also will hang at the Austintown Quaker Steak & Lube.
Simon thanked the police for “preserving our civil rights and freedom. Blue lives do matter.” He thanked the firefighters who “save our lives daily.”
Sam Swogger III, co-chairman of the event, thanked everyone involved in making the event possible, especially Patrick Connolly Sr. of Austintown, whose “vision and foresight” made the Mahoning Valley 9-11 Memorial happen.
“As an American, I wanted to do something. We can’t forget what happened,” said Connolly, who served in the Army in 1954 during the Korean War era.
At the conclusion of the program, Jim Davis, Austintown Township trustee, master of ceremony, asked the audience to turn around from the podium and face the giant U.S. flag, being held up by two cranes, and led them in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“That’s what the flag deserves,” Davis said at the conclusion of the pledge.
Several of the estimated 300 people who attended the ceremony, including many police and fire department personnel in uniform, talked about their feelings about 9/11 and Sunday’s memorial.
“It was beautiful, very emotional, very moving,” said Carolyn Lewis of Austintown.
Two former Marines, Don A. Dewitt of Cortland and Bruce Kirkland of Canfield, talked about their feelings before the ceremony.
“We are here to honor the fallen of 9/11. I’ll never forget what the nation went through because of the terrorist attacks and the war that resulted. But we need to stay strong so that it will never happen again,” said Dewitt, commandant of the Marine Corps League’s Detachment 494.
Kirkland, immediate past commandant of Detachment 494, said he was working in a trucking terminal in New Jersey and saw the first attack on television. Then, he said, he stepped outside, looked across the Hudson River and witnessed the second building being hit.
“It is something I will never forget,” said Kirkland, who served in the Marine Corps from 1955 to 1959.