Friday, September 12, 2003
The smoke still induces tears. The fires still burn the heart.
Two years to the hour after hijacked jets penetrated buildings and took thousands of lives in New York and Washington, D.C., Rebecca Gress of Cape Girardeau stood on the Sprigg Street sidewalk across from the city's fire station and cried.
She watched her hometown police officers and firefighters, government officials and a dozen or so nonofficials line up across the street in a solemn ceremony and pledge their allegiance to a flag that was lowered to half-staff. She watched them take two moments of silence -- one to remember the fallen public servants who were killed during rescue attempts two years ago, and another to remember military personnel who have served and are serving their nation.
"It makes you damn proud to be an American," Gress said. Gress was one of about 10 people who watched the half-hour service from across the street because there was little room for more observers in the parking lot.
The ceremony "brought back memories of all the lives lost, all for hate," Gress said. "So many people are grieving today for the loss of their loved ones."
The fire marshal, the mayor, the city manager, a councilman, the fire department chaplain and the police chief all said a few words of remembrance, respect or prayer.
But perhaps the most somber expression of the ceremony didn't come from a human voice. It came from down the street at St. Mary's Cathedral, a few blocks away where the Rev. Tom Kiefer was sounding church bells as the ceremony was ending just before 10 a.m.
The bells sounded 40 times. Kiefer said the bells were to coincide with the bells ringing in Pennsylvania at the same time. Forty-four passengers, counting four hijackers, and crew members aboard United Airlines Flight 93 died when their hijacked plane, presumably destined for another building, crashed into a wooded area near Pittsburgh.
Once Kiefer pushed the button to start the bells, his mind turned back two years.
"I just remembered the day that it happened, the tragedy, the loss of life," he said. "It helps us remember the truly important things in life, how we can work on our relationships with each other, across the world and in our homes."
The day wasn't somber for everyone. Alma Schrader Elementary School held an upbeat ceremony, recognizing students who had relatives in public service or the military.
It was also a chance for Emily Hagan to show off her dad, Larry.
"My Dad's got three jobs, but two jobs that are really important," explained the 7-year-old. "He's a firefighter and in the Naval Reserves."
For the record, Larry Hagan is also a bus driver.
Hagan, firefighter David Johnson and Capt. John Ryan all spent time at the school Thursday. They pulled up in their fire truck next to the building and ate lunch with the students.
First-grader Emily Diamond had the privilege of sitting next to Ryan at lunch.
"He asked me my name and who my teacher was," she said. "I think their job sounds cool, and I think they work hard."
Kindergarten teacher Sharon Shaw said her pupils do not grasp what happened two years ago. She said the school is leaving it up to parents to educate their children on what happened on Sept. 11. She said it may not be until the children's junior high or high school years until they grasp what happened.
"What we're doing is honoring our emergency workers and saying thank you to the people who help when we need help," she said.
In all, 343 firefighters and 60 police officers were killed by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Shortly following the ceremony at the fire station, Cape Girardeau police chief Steve Strong walked across the street to the police station with a red, white and blue wreath in his hand. The ceremony was over, and it was time to go back to work.
"Two years ago, hundreds of public safety people went to work with the thought of coming home at the end of the day," said Strong. "This day reminds you that you should live life like every day is your last."