Around Loudoun on Sunday ceremonies were held to reflect on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the heroism shown on that day and the lasting impacts.
At programs sponsored by the towns of Leesburg, Purcellville and Lovettsville crowds were relatively small but the participants stressed the importance of remembering the 2,977 lives lost that day, those who risked their lives in rescue efforts, and their families.
Lovettsville continued its tradition of a morning program that marks with a blast from a firetruck horn the times that the airplanes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 in a field in Shanksville, PA. Because of rain, this year’s program was held indoors at the Town Office instead of the Town Square where 2,977 American flags were displayed.
During the course of the 90-minute program, those in attendance were asked to share their recollections of that day. Michael Baker of the Lovettsville Volunteer Fire Department spoke of his memories from 21 years ago when he was sent to help at the Pentagon after it was struck by Flight 77.
Warner Workman brought a replica Liberty Bell to Town Square and rang it marking the moment each tower was hit as well as the Pentagon and Flight 93 going down in Shanksville, PA. He spent 23 days in New York City as a first responder following the attack. He got emotional explaining the reason behind why he brought the bell out and rang it.
“It’s different for the people who were there,” he said.
In Leesburg on Sunday afternoon, town leaders, first responders and members of the community gathered at Freedom Park for a brief ceremony and wreath laying.
Mayor Kelly Burk called the attacks something truly unimaginable at that time.
“The enduring power of the Sept. 11 attacks is clear. The overwhelming share of Americans who are old enough to recall the day will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news,” Burk said. “Yet an ever-growing number of Americans have no personal memory of that day, either because they were too young or they weren’t born yet.”
She noted that many of the people killed in New York were first responders.
“They were the men and the women running into the buildings to get people down to safety. Many of them never knew that safety themselves. Since then, their children have grown up, their parents have passed on, their spouses live without their best friends, but life continues,” she said.
Although Leesburg’s ceremony was short, completed in less than 10 minutes, Burk said the annual gatherings are important.
“We promised 21 years ago never to forget. If these types of ceremonies cease, then at least let us remember the day. Let us, the people here, pay tribute to the individuals and people who sacrificed—the first responders, all the people in the towers, all the people at the Pentagon, all the people who flew on the planes. Let us remember them in our hearts and in our minds as long as we may live,” Burk said.
During the ceremony at Purcellville’s First Responders Monument, which includes a piece of steel beam from Tower 2 of the World Trade Center and stone from a barn near Shanksville, PA, participants heard a first-hand account of the rescue efforts at the Pentagon.
For Senior Trooper Sgt. Michael Middleton, of Ashburn, Sept. 11 started as a routine day. He had just cleared a car crash when he first got word that an airplane had struck the World Trade Center. Next, he received the call about the crash at the Pentagon. Minutes later he was running into the still-burning building to help rescue survivors. He crawled through pitch-black hallways going room to room and ran up a fiery staircase in search of those who were trapped.
“To describe it, it was very hellish. If you even had a charcoal and you look at the ends of the charcoal you see the ambers glowing red, this what is looked like inside. There were chunks of the plane and the building,” he said.
After emerging from the heavy smoke and jet fuel fires, he collapsed outside. Following triage in a nearby parking lot, he was taken to the hospital. He awoke four days later, undergoing treatment for pneumonia, collapsed lungs, burns in his throat and then dangerous acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Middleton said he didn’t feel like a hero, but instead gave that credit to his wife, Karen, who made the daily 90-mile roundtrips to the hospital during his recovery while caring for their two young sons and working at her own job. “The worst part was what she had to go through,” he said.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser highlighted the unity that followed that tragic day.
“Recalling this day 21 years ago, many of us can remember feeling shocked, anger, fear, anxiety, and sadness,” he said. “Yet there also emerged a strong sense of unity and solidarity as citizens of these great United States. Through this tragedy we found a connection to each other as, not nationwide, but a global community of citizens, as neighbors, as friends, as family, as fellow human beings.”
Purcellville’s ceremony concluded with members of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Scout Troop reading prayers for peace from different religious traditions, highlighting that universal sentiment.