(Diane L. Wilson)
A color guard of firefighters raised golden axes in tribute and a bell rang three times to commemorate the more than 3,000 lives lost in the attacks and -- just as important, city leaders said -- to celebrate an American spirit reborn.
"We will never forget," said Cape Girardeau fire chief Rick Ennis. "That is the promise we made to the people who lost their lives in the cowardly attacks."
During the 20-minute ceremony at the fire station of Sprigg Street, Ennis recited the numbers of lives lost that day: 2,700 civilians at the World Trade Center, 125 government and civilian workers at the Pentagon, 246 on airline flights and 343 firefighters, 23 police officers and 37 port authority officers.
"It is very important to remember what happened," Ennis said. "But most of all today, we should remember the spirit that was created in those attacks and carry on that spirit. That is the best way to honor their memories."
Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson called on those attending, which included a handful of residents, to hold hands and remember how they felt that day five years ago.
"When you first heard that a plane had hit the first tower, what did you feel?" he asked. "When you saw the towers collapse, what did you feel? I know what I was thinking: 'What is going on?' What were you thinking?"
Later, he said: "The Bible says we are supposed to forgive. But we must never, ever forget."
The morning of Sept. 10, 2001, was a very different world for U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who also spoke at the ceremony. She recalled participating in the SEMO District Fair parade and going out to the fairgrounds.
The next morning changed everything, she said.
"That first plane hit, and our lives, as so many have said, were changed forever," said Emerson, who at one point in the ceremony fought back tears.
Emerson said she had watched a documentary Monday night that brought back memories of the looks on the faces of the firefighters, police and other responders at the World Trade Center just after the attacks.
"The shock, the agony, the tears, the sadness," she said. "But most importantly, I remember their spirit, the spirit that held everybody together."
Emerson said she was saddened that some of that spirit, so strong immediately after 9-11, has dimmed. "People have forgotten," she said.
Emerson said people should remember that people across the country have one thing in common -- freedoms that cause people from other countries "to hate us for it."
Police chief Carl Kinnison quoted Andy Rooney of "60 Minutes," who said Sunday night that "9-11 is a day that should not be celebrated but remembered."
After the ceremony, Ennis said he hoped people would focus on recapturing that American spirit. "It was the greatest spirit we had in decades," he said. "But that spirit fades in time. I think that's why we do events like this to remember."
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