OLEAN — With a generation growing up without the live images of the 9/11 terror attacks “seared in our memories,” officials called on those to remember to make sure our youth never forget.
More than 100 people attended the memorial service on Sunday at Lincoln Park to mark the 21st anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which claimed 2,977 lives, not counting deaths from suicide, or cancer and other ailments related to their exposures at the sites in the aftermath.
“This was one of the most terrible days in American history,” said Olean American Legion 2nd Vice Commander Conrad Tincher, who served as master of ceremonies for the Legion-led service.
“Even though it has been over two decades, we come together in prayer to remember that day,” said the Rev. Kim Rossi of Bethany Lutheran Church and St. Stephens Episcopal Church — the bells of which rang out across the park during the service. “We pray for those who lost their lives to help, rescue and save others.”
In New York, an estimated 2,606 people were killed in the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, including 2,192 civilians and 412 first responders. Among those responders were 343 members of the New York City Fire Department, 37 police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department, and nine other responders.
At the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, 125 people were killed, about half of those active military personnel. Another 265 fatalities were recorded on the four planes that crashed in the attacks.
Olean Fire Chief Tim Richardson noted that the losses since 2001 due to cancer, illness and suicide among first responders and civilians alike “have surpassed the death toll of that day,” and those in attendance need to “reflect on and support your local heroes” as well as “never take a day for granted … for you never know when tragedy may strike.
“The old saying of ‘firefighters run toward danger when everyone else runs away,’ was on display that day,” he said, noting the COVID-19 pandemic also showcased the best of first responders. “Compassion and patience” while waiting hours to get patients into emergency rooms became as important as the medical services rendered, he added.
State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, noted that many young people — those in their mid-20s and younger — were either not yet born or don’t have solid memories of the attacks.
“It is incumbent on all of us to explain what happened that day,” Borrello said, noting that attacks such as the attempted murder of author Salman Rushdie at Chautauqua Institution in August continue to occur. “Our children must know. … We stand for freedom and justice around the world — and they tried to take that from us.”
Mayor Bill Aiello, who learned of the attacks while in his office as the city’s juvenile police officer 21 years ago, said that “it was a pivotal day in American history — and for those of us who watched it live on television, the images are seared in our memories.”
“It is our responsibility to carry on the stories of the heroes and the victims of that day,” he added.
The Olean High School chorus sang “God Bless America,” while two members performed a duet of the national anthem for the service.
The American Legion’s ritual rifle team did not attend the ceremony, as state law made the possession of rifles in public parks or at special events a felony — without an exemption for ceremonial use. Instead, a city fire truck blasted its horn three times before “Taps” was performed.