By Graig Graziosi
and Billy Ludt
At the foot of an enormous, suspended 100-foot American flag, more than 400 people – including police, firefighters, and medical first responders – gathered at the Austintown 9/11 Memorial Park to remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The annual event, now in its 16th year, honors the lives of those who died in the attacks, including first responders from New York’s police, fire and medical communities.
Members from the Ohio State Highway Patrol drum and bugle corps played at Monday’s event, and the Austintown Fitch High School concert choir sang a selection of songs – including a rendition of the national anthem to begin the program – throughout the night.
The memorial includes a pair of rusted I-beams recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, a pair of polished, black rectangles made to resemble the Twin Towers, an urn containing earth from the site of the Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, Pa., as well as several memorials to fallen officers, firefighters, and a gazebo built to resemble the Pentagon.
Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally was the guest speaker for the evening, and he called the Austintown park “the most beautiful 9/11 memorial in the nation,” before recounting the day of the Sept. 11 attacks and emphasizing the importance of defending the First Amendment.
Anthony Traficanti, a Mahoning County commissioner, also addressed the crowd, recalling the day of the attack and noting the feeling of unity in the country after it.
“Our differences seemed so small then,” he said.
Pat Connolly, a Korean War veteran and chairman of the Austintown Beautification Committee as well as the driving force behind the creation of the memorial, said almost every local fire department had representatives at the event, as well as many of the local police departments.
Throughout the evening, various symbolic ceremonies were conducted to honor the victims. The largest of the symbols – the enormous flag owned by Fyda-White Freight Services in Youngstown – was suspended from a pair of Austintown Fire Department ladders high in the air.
Earlier in the day, a ceremony for a new version of Old Glory took place at the Neil Kennedy Recovery Center, 2151 Rush Blvd.
American Legion Post 472, 323 E. Indianola, Ave., donated an American flag and restored the flag pole standing outside the recovery center for a dedication ceremony.
“We hope this flag will continue to fly for many years to come,” said Carolyn Givens, Neil Kennedy Recovery Center’s executive director.
Don Santarelli, a recovery coach at Neil Kennedy, carries a picture printed in The Vindicator from Sept. 11, 1970, from a flag pole dedication at the center in his pocket.
A flag was presented that day to J. Nielson Kennedy, the widower of founder Neil Kennedy, by local veteran organizations.
The first ceremony precedes the events of Sept. 11, 2001, by 31 years, but Santarelli said the date was too significant to not acknowledge.
He brought up the idea of restoring the flag pole to Givens, and shortly after the center contacted Post 472.
“Once everything was set, we said, ‘It’s a go,’” said Will Midkiff, Post 472 commander. “Let’s get a bucket truck and get it done.”
For several years, the flagpole at the recovery center flew no flag, and was weathered from decades of exposure.
The flag was raised at 2:30 p.m. Monday, followed by the playing of taps.
“The American Legion, they deserve the credit for this,” Santarelli said. “I just got everybody connected.”
Givens said part of the road to recovery comes from relying upon a greater power. The recovery center is currently full, and a waiting list follows, as the opioid epidemic persists.
The flag, she said, symbolizes something larger than all of that.
“I’m trying to take bad memories and replace them with good ones,” Givens said.
“This is really all about restoring hope.”