On the 21st anniversary of the four terrorist attacks which took place on Sept. 11, 2001, District leaders honored the first responders who performed their duties under perilous conditions on that tragic day.
On Sunday, Sept. 11, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D) and Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) at the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services – Engine 16 station in Northwest. Thirty members and officers of the District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agency, including Chief John A. Donnelly Sr. also attended the ceremony.
Cheh led the hour-long program which served as a fitting tribute to first responders, both those who perished and others who continue to suffer from either physical or psychological wounds, or both, inflicted upon them on that unprecedented day in America’s history.
“We would like to honor our first responders who raced into buildings in New York City and the Pentagon [to rescue people and provide assistance] even though they knew they [could be] doomed,” she said. “I really want to say thank you to our first responders who do everything they can to assist us all of the time. We can’t thank you enough.”
On 9/11, terrorists used airplanes as weapons as they attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and damaged the southwest portion of the Pentagon in Arlington County, Va.
That same day, a United Airlines plane bound for San Francisco from Newark, N.J. crashed near Shanksville, Pa., after several passengers attempted to derail the efforts of terrorists onboard the flight. Later evidence suggested that either the White House or the U.S. Capitol had been their target.
Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the attacks, including D.C. public school students and teachers Asia Cottom, Bernard Brown, Rodney Dickens, Hilda Taylor, James Debeuneure and Sarah Clark.
The ceremony included a presentation by the Fire and EMS Honor Guard, the singing of the national anthem and a moment of silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives that day.
Bowser said the city’s 9/11 ceremony has an important purpose.
“Each year, we have gathered here to reflect on the tragedy of that day,” Bowser said. “Council member Cheh, as you enter your final months serving the city, we want to thank you for what you have done for first responders. We will continue the tradition that you started.”
Bowser saluted the 344 first responders who died on 9/11, performing their duty “in the face of terror.”
“This is our simple way of saying thank you,” the mayor said.
Bowser presented Donnelly with a proclamation honoring his staff for their work and dedication.
Mendelson added that remembering the events of 9/11 “are important” but reminded those in attendance that it also taught the nation an important lesson.
“It is great to remember those who sacrificed but we have to be vigilant,” he said. “Terror is alive in the world and in the District, too.”
With Cheh’s departure from the council later this year, Pinto has been tapped to continue managing the city’s 9/11 ceremony in the future.
“Cheh has led this event for over a decade,” Pinto said. “I am humbled and honored to carry on this tradition. Terror threats continue to exist whether they be environmental or cyberwarfare and that is why we must continue to support our first responders.”
The council members presented their 9/11 ceremonial resolution with the three taking turns reading portions and presenting it to Donnelly.
Donnelly thanked Cheh for her efforts in organizing the 9/11 remembrance through the years with a plaque. Dabney Hudson, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 36, spoke of how supportive the District’s elected leaders have been to its first responders.
Lt. Oliver Gaskins, a Ward 8 resident who serves as a member of the agency’s Honor Guard, expressed his satisfaction with the moving ceremony.
“It was beautiful and it will get bigger in the future,” Gaskins said. “I think it is important not to forget those who died on our behalf. We must remember that freedom is not free. People take it for granted but freedom is not automatic.”