DOUGLAS — Despite all the various community events taking place Saturday many Douglas residents took time to pause, reflect and remember the tragic events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and those who lost their lives as a result.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that stunned our country.
Memorial events were held at Veterans Park where the K9 Fetch and Catch championships were held and prior to the Cochise College women’s soccer match with Chandler-Gilbert Community College. There was a moment of silence prior to the Douglas vs. Nogales CBP softball game that was held at Airport Park Saturday evening.
Every year on Sept. 11 the Douglas Fire Department has a ceremony in honor of the event. This year’s event was held at the 10th Street Park and included remarks from DFD Fire Chief Kevin Lomeli, DPD Police Chief Kraig Fullen and Douglas Mayor Donald Huish.
This year’s memorial ceremony was held in front of what has become an iconic painting of the New York skyline featuring the Twin Towers that Douglas resident Irene Robles purchased for $50 at an auction at St. Luke’s Catholic Church two days prior to the attacks. It was painted by local artist Paul Nichols.
“I purchased it on a Sunday and this happened on a Tuesday,” she said. “I was very insistent on getting it. I don’t know why but there was something about that painting. I’ve had this in my living room for 20 years. It’s one of my most prized possessions.”
In his remarks, Huish said it’s hard not to feel the same emotion today we felt 20 years ago.
“Today is a day that we will always remember, a day that some people who chose to do evil wanted to divide us as a nation,” he said. “But we as a nation came together. Today that type of terrorist still exists but throughout the entire world. But what worries me more than anything is the division I see happening amongst neighbors and friends and even our community. I ask each one of you to put your differences aside and if you see an opportunity to serve another person to please reach down and lift them up so we can all stand united together.”
Lomeli was on DFD duty when the attacks took place. He is one of just four active DFD firefighters that remain from that day.
“The impact of that day was significant,” Lomeli said. “The events of that day affected individuals, families, communities; the entire country. It also had significant ramifications. First responders continue to pay the ultimate sacrifice as a result of 9/11. To this day first responders and other brave persons who worked frantically to rescue people from the rubble are dying as a result of cancer and other illnesses associated with exposure to hazardous materials at Ground Zero.
“Over 250 firemen and over 240 police officers have died from 9/11 related illnesses. We will never forget the tragic loss of life and devastation caused as a result of 9/11. We will also remember our nation coming together as one United States of America. This memory is significant and should serve as a powerful reminder of our ability to come together as one nation, especially during times of crisis such as what we are currently experiencing in our country today.”
The chief encouraged everyone to remember all who lost their lives on that day and all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“May our thoughts and prayers be with them and their families,” he said. “May our thoughts and prayers also be with all armed forces and public safety personnel who day in and day out selflessly provide for our safety and security. May we truly be thankful and grateful. May we always remember.”
Fullen began his speech with what Alan Jackson asks in his song dedicated to 9/11, “Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day.”
The chief recalled he was a motor officer for the DPD’s traffic division and was informed by a fellow officer of what had happened in New York.
“I went into (my) house to turn on the news,” he said. “I stood there watching the images of the aftermath after the first tower was struck,” he said. “I called out to my wife (Maria) who joined me in standing in front of the television in a state of disbelief. We continued to watch as the second tower was struck.”
The chief stated that morning and the days and the days and weeks that followed were filled with images that are ingrained into our memories forever.
“The most painful images were of those poor souls who were trapped above the flames with no where to go and no one to save them,” he said. “They were faced with the grim reality they were about to perish and reduced to two choices as to how and the world stood in witness to the choice for some in their final moments. Even today, I cannot begin to fathom the fear and anguish that they suffered.”
The chief concluded his remarks by saying that he asks that our Heavenly Father care for the souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, keep watch over their families and loved ones, and that he also watches over men and women serving in our armed forces and first responders, whether it be police or fire.
“I ask God to guide my own decisions (so) that I, too, do the right things for the right reason,” he said. “Lastly, I pray that we can be united in love, one nation under God and that there will be a time my job is no longer needed.”
Prior to the attacks Robles said she was having a premonition that something bad was about to happen but she didn’t know where or when.
“For years I was having these dreams where I was seeing a ball of smoke that kept coming towards me,” she said. “It was huge. I would tell my family and they would say I was crazy. I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was something bad.
“At the time I was working at the Immaculate Church. On the day of the attack when I saw the smoke on television I knew that’s what I had been dreaming. This day has now taken on a new meaning for me. It’s just so sad.”
Retired Douglas Fire Chief Mario Novoa was also on duty that day working alongside Lomeli.
“I remember all of us being glued to the TV that morning trying to figure out what was happening,” he said. “I remember us securing the station making sure all the bays were closed and all the trucks were inside. I remember us calling our families and making sure our kids were taken out of school. We wanted to be sure we had a fighting chance should something happen. I remember the fear, the anger, the uncertainty that we were all going through not only that day but the weeks that followed. Twenty years after that attack I still feel those same emotions.”
Novoa states he plans on visiting the 9/11 memorial in New York later this month so he can pay his respects to all those that perished.
Along with Lomeli, Assistant Chief Joe Alvarez is one of the four remaining firefighters from that day.
“Twenty years is a long time,” he said. “A lot has happened since that day, but it still feels like yesterday. We can’t forget the lessons of that day and those that gave and have continued to give so much.”
Douglas Fire also included retired members in the remembrance, and brought retired members of the honor guard back for this year’s ceremony.
“There are only four of us left in the department that were already working as firefighters that day,” Alvarez said. “It’s our job to help teach the newer members what this day means, and make sure that we never forget Sept. 11, 2001.”
In honor of the NYFD firefighters who lost their lives that day the DFD placed 343 United States flags in front of the station, while from from dusk to 11 p.m., two lights shined up into the sky memorializing the most iconic representation of that day, the twin towers of the World Trade Center.