Dressed in a toddler-sized firefighter costume, complete with a hat and his name on the coat, 2-year-old Huxley Reynolds joined members of the Cortland Fire Department Saturday at Courthouse Park in Cortland to honor the lives lost during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
It happened long before Huxley was born, but his parents remember that day. His father, Derek Reynolds, has been a firefighter for the city for nearly 16 years. Holding hands, the two stood side by side with first responders waiting for a ceremony to begin.
“We discussed it this morning, that there were some bad guys and the good guys tried to save as many people as they could,” said Huxley’s mom, Andrea Piedigrossi. “He doesn’t understand right now, but every year he’s going to be raised with the fire family and get an understanding of it.”
Piedigrossi was at the high school in Cortland on 9/11 — a day she’ll never forget.
“I was in English class when we found out,” she said. “We didn’t really understand, we just thought a plane flew in on accident. Then we all gathered in the cafeteria and they turned on the TVs. We all sat silently and watched. We understood. There were a couple of classmates who had parents working in the towers.”
Cortland’s annual ceremony, which drew 150 or more people Saturday, honors the victims of the attacks, the first responders who died to help, and the families who have been affected, said Norm Stitzel, a Marine Corps veteran and chaplain of Veterans Search and Rescue.
“For today, and every 9/11, we will continue to attempt to educate, motivate and inspire, so that we and those generations that follow will never forget,” Stitzel said. Police, firefighters and emergency responders attended, as did veterans, soldiers, politicians, residents and students from across Cortland County
“We want to educate to teach the youth of our great nation the event of Sept. 11, 2001, so we never forget,” Stitzel said. “And to inspire, that we may be inspired to live our lives in a way that will contribute in a positive and productive way, to the prosperity of our country.”
Retired Army National Guard Col. Kevin Forney went to the World Trade Center site in Manhattan in the aftermath of the attacks.
“You just can’t explain how bad it was. It was just horrible. The smell… and all the first responders that went in,” Forney said. “My wife and I were watching documentaries last week and I get so sad watching knowing all those firefighters that were getting ready to go into the first tower, watching and knowing that they’re all going to die in five minutes.”
Forney ran the Special Forces Task Force’s Operation Atlas in New York City, leading 4,000 soldiers in helping police and emergency responders. This year’s featured speaker, Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Gary Yaple, a SUNY Cortland alumnus, thanked his fellow military service members, law enforcement, firefighters and emergency responders for their dedication.
“This is the United States of America — that word ‘united’ means something, we have our differences but none of that matters when we all come together,” Yaple said. “We’ve come for a unified cause — democracy, freedom within our liberty. That’s why we formed our country to begin with.”
Yaple was assigned to lead military forces to secure the northern border, locking down all movement to thwart further attacks, he said.
“We had no tactical plan,” Yaple said. “We searched for terrorist suspects, scanned vehicles for explosive devices.”
New York National Guard troops started with border patrol, then moved to secure airports, bridges and tunnels, train stations and more, Yaple said.
“I had the distinct honor of serving with true warriors, amazing, selfless service members bound together in a brotherhood and camaraderie without compare,” Yaple said. “We should never forget. We need to remember and we need to pay homage to those families and those service members who made this great sacrifice for the price of freedom.”
In Dryden, a ceremony was held in front of the Neptune Hose Co. No. 1 station, and in the village of Homer, residents closed Main Street for a memorial event at the village’s 9/11 memorial, next to the Homer fire station. Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti was the guest speaker in Homer.