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Southwest Florida marks 9-11: Lee County holds remembrance

By JANA MACKIN - | Sep 13, 2021

First responders hoist the flag outside the Caloosa Sound Convention Center on Saturday morning as part of Lee County's 9/11 remembrance ceremony. JANA MACKIN

When Guns n Hoses Pipes n Drums played the cadenced sublimity of “Amazing Grace” on their Great Highland pipes and drums before a somber crowd inside the Caloosa Sound Convention Center on Saturday morning, tears etched the faces of hundreds of police, firefighters, EMS and others in Southwest Florida who joined the nation in commemorating the 20-year anniversary of 9/11.

While Fort Myers was far from Ground Zero, locals embraced that day the memory of those fallen heroes’ great humanity and steadfast hearts that led them to run into the hellish conflagration of World Trade Center’s crumbling twin towers to save lives and die.

They answered the call of duty.

How could you not?

“Today we come together as one American family to remember,” said State Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka.

“On that fateful day, we witnessed light shine out of darkness,” she said. “Heroes emerged to save lives, fight for our homeland, defeat evil.”

“Many gave the ultimate sacrifice so that our American family would endure,” she said.

For 90 minutes, a Southwest Florida 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony marking the 20th anniversary was held at the Convention Center where law enforcement, fire departments, public safety, public officials, clergy, veterans and airline representatives hosted and participated in this solemn tribute to the nearly 3,000 first responders and victims of the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

With soaring rhetoric and touching tributes, the ceremony’s speakers included Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson, who spoke via pre-recorded video on a large screen. He was in Fort Myers sister city Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, giving 9/11 remarks. Fort Myers City Councilman Johnny Streets, also spoke, reading the the city’s official Day of Remembrance proclamation for the 9/11 fallen. Also speaking was Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman and Persons-Mulicka, at a podium behind an altar with a cross, a folded funeral flag, empty first responder helmets and an overhead photo of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Todd Everly, director of Southwest Florida Public Service Academy, did the welcome and introduction of this somber ceremony that featured presentation of national colors and honorary wreath, patriotic music, a flag folding ceremony, memorial bell ringing, invocation, playing of “Taps” and reading of the names of the fallen first responders. A large screen in the background displayed the roll call of all names lost in 9/11.

Good morning,” Everly said. “At 8:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Ninty-two people were on board. There were no survivors. Please join me in a moment of silence.”

Throughout the program, an honorary bell rang in moments of silence at those specific times when the planes had crashed into the Twin Towers, Pentagon, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the towers’ collapsed.

“We are the land of the free because we are the home of the brave,” Anderson said.

“Our flag is what they have fought for and died for; the greatest symbol of freedom known to the world,” he said.

“9/11 brought us to our knees not in fear,” he said, “but in prayer.”

When Hamman spoke, he focused on the importance of passing the torch of 9/11 remembrance and honor to the generation of young people born after the attack. The importance of this event should become a part of their psyche and history so they can learn from and carry those tragic lessons forward, he said.

“Twenty years ago today, America was changed forever,” Hamman said.

“On that day, nearly 3,000 died and America lost its innocence,” he said.

“Our eyes were opened and we saw the face of pure evil,” he sad. “As the father of two young children… I struggle with how much of that day should I tell them — both the bad and the good.”

“As long as Americans remain vigilant in their fight for liberty and justice,” Hamman said, “we will continue to be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.”

The commemoration climaxed in the reading of the fallen first responders and airline staff names by uniformed and other members of NYCPD, NYCEMS, NYCFD, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and United and American Airlines.

During the roll call, each name echoed throughout the enormous room as though a piercing note from “Taps.” Besides the dirge of names, only a baby’s cry and the ringing of an unanswered phone punctuated the heavy silence.

Buried within the muster of these dead heroes was the name of NYPD Officer Moira Smith, 38, 13th precinct. Smith died inside the South Tower when it collapsed as she helped people get out. Her badge 10467 and holster are displayed at the 9/11 Memorial Museum

An aging, dispatch recording captures Smith’s last words as a 10-13, officer down. While bleeding through static crackling, Smith’s last call for help etches itself deep into our collective history and our better selves.

“Help me out. Help me. Help.”