WHITMAN — Under a brilliant blue sky, eerily similar to the one 20 years ago when America came under terrorist attack with the hijacking and weaponization to four commercial airliners, Whitman American Legion Post 22 began the town’s commemoration of that fateful day.
Color guards from the Sons of the Legion, Whitman VFW and Whitman police and fire departments taking part in the ceremony, the community honored the first responders and civilians — who worked in the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and who were aboard Flight 93 over Shanksville, Pa. — lost that day. The fire department unfurled a huge American flag from its ladder truck for the ceremony, and a wreath-laying at the department’s 9/11 Memorial concluded the event at 8:45 a.m. — the time the first plane struck the WTC on Sept. 11, 2001.
Laying the wreath was Hanson resident and former call firefighter for the Whitman Fire Dept. — now a Plympton Fire Department firefighter-paramedic, Paul Skarinka, who later was deployed to Iraq as an Army corporal, where he was wounded in action. Clancy said he asked Skarinka to do the honors because he could not think of a more fitting person to do so.
“We all have reflections of that day,” Whitman Fire Chief Timothy Clancy said before the wreath ceremony. “I was here working that day, when we watched the world change forever. Little did we know we were watching history unfold before our very eyes.”
Clancy said the thing that sticks with him is how America came together on Sept. 12.
Police Chief Timothy Hanlon also spoke.
“Public safety, first responders, military and civilians alike, came together,” Hanlon said. “This was perpetrated against us as a nation.”
“It’s a dark day in our nation’s history,” said Sons of the Legion Commander John Cameron. “We’ll never forget those who passed away on that day.”
After a benediction, state American Legion Chaplain William Sheehan delivered the official American Legion commemorative speech, focusing on the legacy of Sept. 11, 2001 and the new generation born after it. Former state Rep. Geoff Diehl and Boston City Council candidate Donnie Palmer, both slated as featured speakers were unable to attend.
“Some lost parents that day,” Sheehan said. ‘Others lost siblings and friends, some have served in the military or became first responders as a tribute to those who were lost.’
He described how, much like those coming of age at the time of Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 generation did not seek to grow up during war.
“Evil came to America, and Americans responded,’ he said, noting that the feelings most Americans experienced on that Tuesday morning 20 Septembers ago, are still remembered by those old enough to understand their significance and the way shock, sadness and anger swiftly turned to resolve.
He compared the heroism of passengers on Flight 93 with that of other Americans who fought at Gettysburg, only 90 miles away.
“President Lincoln said, ‘…the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here…,’” Sheehan said. ‘Just like Gettysburg, a field at Shanksville is hallowed ground. It is where Flight 93 was brought down to Earth, not by terrorists, but by those bravely resisting their evil intent.”
Sheehan noted the post-9/11 surge in American patriotism, marked by skyrocketing sales of American flags, and funds established for the lost first responders and their families.
“Where have all the flags of Sept. 11 gone?” he said. “It is up to us to answer that question.”
He said the flag is still brought forth on the traditional patriotic holidays and in response to horrific attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombing, the Pulse nightclub attack and so many others.
“We have been inspired by the service of healthcare workers, volunteers and first responders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sheehan said. “Yet those moments seem to be overshadowed by violence in our communities, vitriolic politics and a questioning of America’s role as a beacon of hope and freedom.”
Sheehan said the legacy of the more than 3,000 people — Americans as well as citizens of many other countries who worked in the WTC complex, need not be lost to current political divisions.
The better legacy would be to reassure those worried about the future, to comfort those mourning a lost loved one and to temper the rage of those angered by such events, he said.
Cameron spoke again following a ceremonial volley by the Sons of the Legion firing squad and the playing of “Taps.”
“On this day, 20 years ago, 246 people went to sleep in preparation for their morning flights, 2,606 people went to sleep in preparation for work in the morning, 343 firefighters went to sleep in preparation for their morning shifts, 60 police officers went to sleep in preparation for their morning patrols,” Cameron read from a writing about the night of Sept, 10, 2001. “Eight paramedics went to sleep in preparation for their morning shift. None of them saw past 10 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.”
He urged those in attendance not to take one second of our lives for granted.