The organizers of Mt. Lebanon’s observance of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were not sure about what to expect as far as attendance.
As it turned out, A Day to Remember, the ceremony held at the Mt. Lebanon Public Safety Center, drew a sizable crowd of people with stark recollections of multiple terrorist attacks combined with those who are too young to know what happened firsthand.
The blend of ages corresponded with comments made by state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, regarding the second Tuesday of September two decades ago.
“No matter where you were on that day, we can be there in a moment. A quick news flash, a quick YouTube video, and the emotions of that day are there,” he said. “The challenge for us is to make sure that those emotions are also there for those who come after us: that defining moment, that unique American experience of not just the pain of that day, but the love on that day.”
Miller acknowledged today’s Americans are going through a challenging time with regard to differences among themselves, but as of Sept. 11, 2001, there was a feeling of unity in the country for a time.
“Those enemies of our country, they didn’t care where we were from,” he said. “They didn’t care what party we had. They didn’t care what political sign you put in your yard. They didn’t care what you felt about the masks.
“They cared that they were just attacking Americans,” he continued. “They saw us for what we really are, which is a country without those designations. Those things that we do to divide ourselves are irrelevant, especially to our enemies of our country.”
He also thanked Mt. Lebanon Fire Department Chief Nick Sohyda, under whom Miller served for 14 years as a volunteer firefighter, for organizing A Day to Remember and serving as master of ceremonies, along with other first responders and military personnel.
State Sen. Devlin Robinson, R-Bridgeville, served as another speaker during the observance, calling particular attention to the efforts of American’s forensic community in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
“When they would find DNA evidence at all three of the crash sites,” he said. everyone stopped, and they unfolded an American flag and honored the dead. They were only able to find about 1,100 remnants of DNA of the 2,823 victims in New York. They were able to find DNA of all 40 of the victims in Shanksville.”
In Somerset County, the crash of United Airlines Fight 93 sent remains some three miles in every direction.
“And when they found the DNA of every person on board, they stopped and they bulldozed the entire area, and made it hallowed ground, one of the largest cemeteries in America,” Robinson said.
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, Robinson offered some advice.
“You never know what’s waiting for you, so be prepared,” he said. “Take a First Aid class. Take a CPR class. Join your local fire department. Make a difference in your community. That’s how we honor the dead.”
Honors extended during A Day to Remember included ringing a bell and observing a moment of silence at 8:46 and 9:03 a.m., the times when the two World Trade Center towers were struck in 2001, and placing wreaths at the Mt. Lebanon Firefighters Memorial outside the public safety center.
Mindy Ranney, Mt. Lebanon Commission president, provided a reminder that the airplane crashes and rescue efforts in New York City, Somerset County and at the Pentagon in Arlington County, Va., claimed 2,977 lives.
“And even those disturbing numbers don’t include the total number of lives we lost,” she said. “The death toll from the tragedy continues to rise, as first responders and others who worked at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attack succumb to related illnesses.
“Two decades later, thousands of police officers, firefighters and other responders and survivors still suffer long-term health effects, both physically and mentally,” Ranney continued. “It’s estimated that as many responders have died after 9/11 from breathing the toxic dust and debris as total people died on that day.”
Following the observance, guests were invited for a silent one-mile walk through Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, in which a timeline of events and photos from Sept. 11, 2001, were posted.