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Several hundred people attended one of the area’s largest Sept. 11 commemorations Wednesday at the 9-11 Memorial Park on Raccoon Road in Austintown presented by the Mahoning Valley 911 Memorial Committee.
Wednesday was the 12-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. One of the hijacked planes, which was supposed to crash into the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, was taken over by passengers and crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa.
The Austintown memorial features a gazebo under which are the names of those who died in the terrorist attacks, as well as artifacts such as bricks from the Pentagon, dirt from the field in Shanksville and steel from the World Trade Center.
Host Ron Verb opened the event by talking about major events in U.S. history that everyone can recall and will never forget, including the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Challenger space shuttle explosion, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and Sept. 11, 2001.
“Those are the occasions in life when everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing,” Verb said.
Following the posting of colors by honor guards from the Austintown Fire Department, Cardinal Joint Fire District, the Youngstown Police Department and the Youngstown Fire Department, Rev. Msgr. Kenneth Miller, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Austintown, gave an opening prayer.
“We thank you Lord for the generous hearts of so many Americans who lived, who served, who died. And in these moments of remembrance, we ask that you uphold those who work and watch, wait and weep, and love,” Miller said. “By your spirit, give rise in us sympathy for all those who lost their lives that day, strengthen us to comfort those who mourn and help us work in large ways and small to protect our freedoms and to make the world safe for peace.”
The National Anthem was performed by the Austintown Fitch band and choir, followed by a flyover by a STAT Med-Evac helicopter.
“The Firefighters Prayer” was read by Austintown firefighter Mike Kraychik and “The Police Officers Prayer” was read by Austintown officer Jeff Toth, who also serves as the school resource officer.
One of the speakers was Don Jordan, a fire captain at the Nimishillen Fire Department near Louisville in Stark County. He and his wife, Brenda, purchased New York City Fire Department Engine 257 at an auction and restored it. The engine was one of the first to arrive at the twin towers.
“I get many people that want to just come up and touch the truck and they just become part of that day by touching the rig,” Jordan said.
He said he wanted to keep the memory of Sept. 11 alive and thought restoring fire trucks used that day would be a good way to do that.
“When something becomes history, it gets forgotten. I didn’t want to see that happen,” Jordan said.
One of the keynote speakers was Lisa Kleinhandler, CEO of Hudson Fasteners, Inc., which used to be located in New York City and is now located inside the Youngstown Business Incubator. She witnessed the chaos after the attacks.
“You weren’t sure what was happening, if we were safe,” Kleinhandler said.
Also speaking were New York City firefighters Nicholas Mincone and Michael Kahlau, who responded that day. They spoke about their experiences as they drove toward the site where the twin towers once stood.
“I had a lot of friends that were firemen and went to the World Trade Center and never came home that day. And it’s tough,” Kahlau said. “I look back at my time down there and I wouldn’t change a thing. If it happened again tomorrow, I’d be in the same position.”
But Kahlau didn’t just battle through the rubble 12 years ago. Three years ago, he battled thyroid cancer, which was related to working at Ground Zero.
“I found a bunch of other guys who had the same cancer right around the same time I did. And I was one of the lucky ones. They caught mine early and I am still working,” Kahlau said.
“Those men that went into those buildings that day went in there wanting to help and wanting to do as best they could,” Mincone said.
Both are hopeful memories of that day and those lost live on.
“They did not destroy what this country was about. This country holds strong today because of what everyone feels and believes,” Mincone said.
The two firefighters were each presented with a memorial painting by local artist Ray Simon and a proclamation from the Austintown Trustees in honor of their service.
Spectators were treated to a rendition of “Amazing Grace” by The Celtic Flame Pipe and Drum Corps, as well as the playing of “Taps” by Aaron Loper of the Salem Fire Department. A 21-gun salute was provided by the Youngstown Police Department Honor Guard.
A flag folding ceremony and ringing of the 9-11 Memorial bell also were part of the events.