homepage logo

Cape Coral remembers, honors, 9/11 dead

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Sep 13, 2021

Johnny Leizear stands amidst a field of American flags planted in front of the Cape Coral City Hall Saturday in memory of the 2,977 who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He said he attended the remembrance "just to pay respect to the fallen and police an fire department personnel and everyone else who lost their lives." Valarie Harring

In the midst of the solemn crowd at Cape Coral City Hall Saturday, Denise Vega stood quietly apart.

A red, white and blue twist of ribbon held back her hair. Her face mask was an ode to New York.

In her hands, she held two things: a Thin Blue Green and Red Line flag in support of law enforcement, firefighters and military personnel; and a small pictorial in memory of her cousin, Manuel Del Ville, Jr., smiling in his firefighter gear.

Her T-shirt was black, bearing a white silhouette of the New York City skyline and emblazoned with the words that captured the emotion of those all around her: Never Forget.

And in Cape Coral, on the day marking the 20th year since the attacks of what we now call simply 9/11, Cape Coral did not.

With honor guards and speeches, a ringing of the bell and a bugler playing taps, residents, first responders and dignitaries remembered — and honored — the 2,977 killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93 in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

Manuel Del Ville, Jr.,responding with Engine 5 out of the Bronx, was among the fallen.

Fire Chief Ryan Lamb started the city of Cape Coral’s remembrance with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower — and the ringing of the bell, a tradition to honor those who gave their lives performing their duties. The presentation of the colors by the Cape Coral Fire and Police Honor Guards, and Jazzlyn Little singing the National Anthem, followed.

CCPD Pastor Dennis Gingerich gave the invocation, mourning the first responders who gave their lives to rescue others at the Twin Towers, while also recognizing what happened in the aftermath of the attacks — the coming together of a nation.

“Remind us of that day and the days following when the true hearts of the nation’s people were revealed in open arms and open doors and open hearts,” Gingerich said. “May we never forget on that day, we did not focus on nationalities, wealth, race or political affiliations, we focused on humanity and the love of all out fellow Americans.”

Denise Vega awaits the start of the 9/11 remembrance at the Cape Coral City Hall Saturday. Her cousin, firefighter Manuel Del Ville, Jr., who responded with Engine 5 out of the Bronx, was among the 2,977 who lost their lives in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Valarie Harring

U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, who is from New York, remembered that day as a student at Florida State, saying that regardless of who we were, we stopped in horror.

He also said that the people who fought the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those who gave their lives that day, should always be remembered.

“The honor and the memory of those who died 20 years ago, the men and women in uniform who served our nation around the world and maintained freedom and liberty for our nation, will not die in vain,” Donalds said.

Speaking on behalf of the city was Mayor John Gunter, who broke down the timeline of the events that day, CCPD Police Chief Tony Sizemore and Lamb, who also gave his thoughts before leading those who attended to the lawn in front of City Hall to plant nearly 3,000 flags, in each bearing the name of one of the 2,977 who died.

Vega, who later sought out the flag which bore her cousin’s name, said before the service she attends an event every year in his memory.

“Every year,” Vega said. “Every year.”

Among those also taking part was Amy Mitchell said she was impressed by the ceremony and that 9/11 had struck at the core of her, having lived in New Jersey. She said the aftermath, though, was inspiring as it was the first time she saw the country really come together.

“Sept. 12 was probably one of the best days ever because we all came together and I’m glad they spoke of that,” Mitchell said. “It was pretty remarkable.”

There were many children and young adults attending, those who weren’t around or too young to remember that day, one of the first tragic events Americans witnessed in real time as it played out on TV screens.

Mitchell’s daughter, Makayla, 12, said she has been taught a lot.

“It’s important to remember the sacrifices of many families and people and always remember we have to honor them,” said Makayla, who wrote a story based on something that occurred at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Toni Love, whose husband, Andrew, is a Cape Coral firefighter, said it was emotional, especially as they have watched the 9/11 documentaries.

“It’s tough to watch firefighters do things sometimes. It was very emotional. I was in third grade at the time and I remember everything screeching to a halt and kids going home and we didn’t understand why,” Toni said.

“I think Sept. 11 changed us the same way it changed everybody. It showed us there are people who want to hurt us and are looking to destroy our freedom,” Andrew said. “We have to be vigilant against all of that.”

The remembrance at City Hall was one of at least three in Cape Coral and among many in Lee County.

At the Brotherhood of Heroes Resource Center and Museum on Del Prado Boulevard, another ceremony was held later Saturday morning at 10:30, which featured a video showing the events of Sept. 11, 2001, including the Twin Towers collapsing.

Among the speakers was County Commissioner Brian Hamman, State Rep. Mike Giallombardo, Lee County State Attorney Amira Fox and founder of the museum, Carol Rae Culliton.

Hamman gave a proclamation to recognize the remembrance of the day by county commissioners and that he was among those frightened and uncertain as the attacks on the country unfolded.

“Though we cannot allow the fears sparked by those terrible acts to run our lives. We should never forget what happened that day or in the days that followed,” Hamman said. “Since that day, an entire generation of Americans have been born and will never know the America we once knew.”

— Valarie Harring contributed to this report.