WHITMAN — If Saturday morning’s American Legion 9/11 ceremony was about national unity and patriotism, the evening ceremony hosted by the town’s public safety departments was an occasion for more personal reflections on the meaning of the day.
After Whitman firefighters again unfurled their huge American flag, suspended from the ladder truck, in the setting sunlight, federal, state and local officials were joined by Fire Chief Timothy Clancy and Police Chief Timothy Hanlon in reflecting on Sept. 11, 2001 and beyond.
“This gathering is good for the soul,” said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. “It allows us to remember and appreciate the heroism and the sense of unity that tragedy sometimes brings.”
Selectmen Vice Chairman Daniel Salvucci placed 9/11 as one of the three news events in his life that personally affected him — along with the Feb. 3, 1959 plane crash that killed rock and roll singers Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. He had been a fan of Buddy Holly and he had voted for the first time in 1960 and he could not understand why anyone would kill a president.
“My wife and I planned a vacation to Las Vegas … on Sept. 11, 2001,” Salvucci said. “The flight that took off before ours was the one that hit the second tower. A higher power was protecting my wife and I.”
They had briefly considered taking the earlier flight.
Lynch kicked off the program following W-H student Grace Morgan’s performance of the national anthem.
Lynch recalled his experience as a candidate on a primary ballot on Sept. 11, 2001 as he watched news coverage of the attacks and the selfless work done by police and fire personnel — and the passengers and crew of Flight 93.
“While there was much tragedy that day, I choose to remember the heroism,” he said. “When I first arrived in Congress, my swearing-in was delayed until Oct. 26, because following those attacks, there were antrax attacks on several of the [federal] buildings, including the U.S. Capitol.”
He recalled being assigned to the Oversight Committee, which was charged, among other work, to review the 9/11 attacks — work that required several trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I will never forget [that] during our investigation, we had to review the radio transmissions of the firefighters and police from inside the World Trade Center,” Lynch said. “WE were amazed, listening to those tapes, and reading the transcripts, because … we tracked the progress of those rescue teams … The last transmission from the New York Fire Department was from the 81st Floor of Tower 1.”
He said there is no doubt in his mind that fire personnel “knew that they were in great peril and that they would probably not come out alive.” He said such heroism is what first responders like those in Whitman sign up to potentially face every day.
“We should be thankful, and grateful, for the commitment they make to our families on a daily basis, because it is unpredictable what the demands of that job might require them to do,” Lynch said.
State Rep. Alyson Sullivan, R-Abington had a similar message, but began her talk with her experience as an eighth-grader whose friend lost their father on one of the planes flown into the World Trade Center.
“As a 13-year-old, I remember how our country came together,” she said. “We thanked our police officers for the services that they gave to our communities. We thanked our firefighters … Our flag was a sign of pride and unity.”
She said her hope, going forward is that we continue to do those random acts of kindness, encouraging people to buy a coffee or lunch for a veteran and thank them for their service and to thank police officers and firefighters for their service of protecting their community.
“We must teach our children, to learn their history so they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” State Sen. Mike Brady, D-Brockton, said in thanking parents for bringing their children to the ceremony. “A house divided does not stand, so we should all work together …we all work together for the betterment of our community.”
It’s almost impossible to consider that the 9/11 attacks were 20 years ago, Selectman Randy LaMattina said, noting that he remembered exactly where he was that day.
“We join together to remember some extraordinary lives lost that day,” LaMattina said. “Tonight we honor the bravest — 343 New York City firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers, and countless other heroes, who on that day, met danger head-on and chose to selflessly put the safety and protection of others in front of their own. Their actions have not been forgotten.”
He also reflected on how, after that day people were more willing to compromise and worked together with pride in their nation and treated neighbors with more kindness.
“In the times that we face now, maybe that’s something else that should not be forgotten,” he said.
Town Administrator Lincoln Heneiman also spoke of the legacy of loss.
“The attack on Sept. 11 brought a sadness too deep to imagine, let alone name,” he said. “Furthermore, it happened on a day so bright that pilots actually have a name for it — it was a severe clear day. … A day that began with infinite visibility became a day of blinding grief. We shall never forget.”
Selectmen Justin Evans and Brian Bezanson also attended the event. Honor guards representing the VFW, Whitman Police and Fire departments also participated.
Hanlon thanked the residents and guests who attended and reflected on what could be learned from 9/11.
“Public safety encompasses many forms from the various departments,” he said. “We are your Whitman Police Department and we do much more than enforcing laws.”
He said police address many issues that have to do with the quality of life, like homelessness, unemployment and drug addiction.
“Agencies come together to achieve greater access to one or more of these resources to get people back on their feet,” in addition to the work they do that can put them in harms way as they protect citizens.
Clancy concluded the program by thanking the dozens of residents who attended to remember the defining moment in history that was 9/11 and the rallying phrase: Never forget.
“I can safely say we have not forgotten and we shall never, ever forget that day,” he said.
Rev. Joshua Gray, also a Whitman firefighter/paramedic offered the benediction, and Rev. Christy Coburn offered a closing prayer. Two moments of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York City, the Pentagon and over Shanksville, Pa.