Service members, civilians pay respects to 9/11 victims

11 Sep 2010 | Lance Cpl. Barrera

Nine years have passed since the fateful day that changed America and affected so many peoples’ lives across the United States and throughout the world. On Sept. 11, members of the Onslow Civic Affairs Committee came together and hosted the fourth annual 9/11 Observance Ceremony held at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens.

“Our purpose today is not to debate history or politics, but to remember those who perished in the events of 9/11 and those who continue to be involved,” said Don Herring, chairman for the Onslow Civic Affairs Committee.

The ceremony began with the presentation of colors. Throughout the crowd veterans from the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club to the Military Order of the Purple Heart stood at attention and saluted the flag as it passed their way.

“I came here to honor what happened that day and to remind myself to not become complacent about it,” said Maria Gordon, an attendee of the observance. “I came to my first ceremony last year and it was incredibly moving, that day I decided I will not miss another one.”

Then, the procession of civilians - each one carrying a picture of a person who had lost their life during the attacks. Although most of the crowd never knew any of the fallen, as their stories were told eyes slowly started to water.

The first group to talk was people representing victims who were on the planes when they died. Among those who passed away were college students, tourists and teachers. Each one having lost their life too soon to achieve the goals they had for themselves; learning to sail, building a home or starting a family.

The second group was victims who were in the World Trade Center Towers when the planes hit.

“Ignatius Udo Adanga’s quest for a better life led him out of South Africa to Germany and finally New York some two decades ago,” said the person who was holding up a picture of Adanga. “All that knew him described him as energetic, always seeming to have spare time to help family and friends and  mentor.”

Onslow Civic Affairs Committee member, Craig Wagner, then proceeded to lead the crowd in prayer.

“We mourn the loss of children, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and lovers. We grieve for the first responders, who put the safety of others above their own lives,” said Wagner.

The third group represented was that of people who died in the attacks on the Pentagon that same day.

Sergeant First Class Jose Orlando Calderon’s picture was held up as they told the crowd his life story. Calderon viewed the military as a way to advance in life - the week of the attacks he and his wife had taken the first steps in buying a new home and settling down. People spoke of him as being an exceptional father who loved songs and salsa music and spent most of his time with his family.

Then came, perhaps, the most sobering moment of the ceremony. At exactly 8:46 a.m., a minute after the first plane hit the Twin Tower’s North Tower, a moment of silence was taken to reflect and remember those who lost their lives. Throughout the crowd tears were quietly shed as they reflected.

Then from the distance a lone police siren could be heard, followed by a fire truck siren and a horn.

Those sirens represented the response of brave law enforcement officers, firefighters and rescue personnel who responded on that day to the World Trade Center, Pentagon and to the field in Pennsylvania where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.

Next firefighters, law enforcement personnel and service members took center stage as they talked about the brave rescuers who risked their life to save others as well as service members who answered this nation’s call for the War on Terror.

Among the fallen was Lance Cpl. Jessie Cassada. Cassada was a member of his high school’s Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. His instructor, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Clarks, said “It was the Marines or bust for Cassada, as no other branch of service was going to satisfy him.”

He was described as a lover of fishing and his family. Cassada was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. He died January 6, 2009 in Operation Enduring Freedom while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Capt. Jeff Williams from the Jacksonville Fire Department, led the group in a closing prayer as the ceremony drew to the end.

“We pray for those who gave their life on that fateful day. For greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. And we are thankful to be living in a place where brave men and women are willing to do just that,” said Williams.

For one ceremony attendee, this day greatly affected her life. Margaret Idol, a volunteer with the American Red Cross, was one of the people who offered her help during the 9/11 attacks.

“We talked to clients, gave them shelter, food, clothing and medical help,” said Idol. “I remember asking a young man where he worked, he said he worked on the 84th floor of one of the buildings, and that he was gone for a while and now all his co-workers had died.”

Many who came to the ceremony were moved not only for the tragic events but for the countless many who lost their life, and by those who continue to fight for freedom throughout the world.

“The reason I came here today was to remind myself of what happened that day,” said Idol. “If we are to learn anything from history is that if you forget about it, it can slip up on us again.”