The thunderous report of gun shots still hung in the air this morning as Taps played.
Dozens of first responders — firefighters, police officers and other emergency responders — stood vigil around two towers protruding from a cement block base at Courthouse Park in Cortland.
The ceremony to dedicate the 9/11 memorial to what happened 17 years ago began the same time people would have began entering the World Trade Center the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
A few minutes later, a moment of silence was observed as a flag was raised to half staff followed by the national anthem.
“Today, 17 years on, we must remember that moment of horror,” said Chaplain Dennis Hayes, the Ground Zero chaplain.
Ten minutes later, Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin addressed the hundreds of people — first responders, school students and residents. “Never forget the thousands of innocent lives lost,” he said, or the first responders who ran into danger, or the people who lost family and friends.
It was around the time that Flight 93 took off from Newark International Airport and headed toward San Francisco. The sound of bagpipes playing Amazing Grace hovered on the morning breeze.
Moments later on that morning 17 years ago, the north tower was hit.
State Sen. James Seward (R-Milford) was in New York City the morning of the attack. On the television he saw the damage from the first tower being hit and thought it was an accident. Shortly after, the curiosity of people on the street turned to panic.
“I saw all of the first responders running to that point of danger, rushing there,” Seward said. “And I will never forget the look of steely determination in their eyes.”
Growing up, Theresa Tobin, the deputy chief of the New York City Police Department, remembers an expression — screaming bloody murder — and never understood what it meant. “Sept. 11 (2001) changed that,” she said.
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As Chief Tobin spoke it was minutes near when the south tower was struck in 2001.
“On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 2,977 American sons and daughters; mothers; fathers; friends perished in the World Trade Center in New York City, in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon,” Tobin said.
Following Tobin’s remarks, a military honor was rendered for those who died in service following the attack. A 21-gun salute rang out in the morning air followed by Taps.
Following the ceremony, Cortland Police Officer Jesse Abbott had mixed emotions. “The two towers that are here persevered in the face of adversity,” he said of the monument, about the time hijackers assumed control of Flight 77.
“This is American people rising from tragedy,” said Deputy Police Chief Paul Sandy. “Nobody can forget.”
Former Cortland resident Gerald Hines was visiting from Arizona and stopped at the ceremony. He choked back tears as he recalled the exact place he was the morning of the attack. “I was here in Cortland,” he said, at the Holiday Inn for a meeting. After that, he took his car to get an oil change and saw the news reports.
Hines, a U.S. Navy veteran in Vietnam, said the first responders who charged in to Ground Zero showed true bravery. Hines spoke around the time that Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
“It’s sad thinking about the people that died on that day 17 years ago,” said Molly Steve, an eighth-grader at Cortland Junior High School.
Steve was not born when the attack happened. She learned later.
At 9:59 a.m. Sept. 11, 2001, the south tower collapsed, followed four minutes later by Flight 93 crashing into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. At 10:28 a.m. the north tower collapsed.
Rescue efforts continued.
“Although Sept. 11 is the worst terrorist attack to occur on American soil,” said Theresa Tobin. “It is also the greatest rescue ever, given that the estimate for each person perished on that fateful day, 10 people were rescued.”