The moment of silence lingered in the air, participants reflecting on what happened on September 11, 2001.
On Saturday morning, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Tisbury Fire Department held a memorial service in honor of the innocent victims and the first responders affected by those attacks. Except for the facilitators of the event, the small gathering of about 30 people remained quiet throughout the memorial. (The event was not publicized in advance because of ongoing concerns with COVID-19.)
The tolling bells of the fire department signaled the beginning of the memorial. Members of the Tisbury Fire Department, Tisbury Police Department, and veterans with American Legion Post 257 stood at attention. The flag at the station was lowered to half-staff.
Typically, the Rev. Stephen Harding of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven would be present at these types of events. However, Harding was at Ground Zero instead, where he goes annually in remembrance of 9/11 victims. Harding was a pastor in New York City during the time of the attacks. He left a reading to be given by Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland.
“We gather here today to honor and remember our fallen brothers who were killed on this day,” Leland said, reading on behalf of Harding. “We remember their sacrifice and their commitment to duty, and we ask that they continue to rest in peace.”
Leland read off the New York City Police officers, the Port Authority Police officers, court officers, the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 who fought back, their plane crashing in a field in Shanksville, Pa., instead of al-Qaeda’s intended target of Washington, D.C., and those who later died of illnesses inflicted by the terrorist attacks among those who should be honored. Individuals who perished on the other planes used to attack the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were also remembered. Leland also asked those present to remember the families who lost a loved one during the attacks, and who, as a result, must endure spending special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries with a vacant seat.
Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande also thanked the town’s first responders and veterans for setting up this tribute to those who died. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years. It was much the same as today, a bright and sunny day. I think we all recall that vividly,” Grande said.
Many do in fact remember where they were, and what they were doing during the time of the 9/11 attacks. Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost was a rookie officer on a traffic detail at the old fire station on Beach Road. He remembers when he and the other officer with him went into the station to watch on television as the second World Trade Center tower imploded from the plane strike.
“I remember the feelings of shock, horror, fear, and anger when we realized this was an intentional act,” Habekost said.
There were 2,977 casualties from the attack on the World Trade Center alone, including 343 firefighters and emergency medical technicians, and 71 police officers. Habekost wanted to especially honor the first responders for “their service to our nation,” and who face danger head-on every day.
“Those first responders didn’t run into those buildings because it was good for them. They ran in because they were determined to save the people in those buildings, and they made the ultimate sacrifice with their own lives. On this day, 20 years later, I find myself standing in front of the new fire station. A little older and still working for the police department,” Habekost said. “God bless our first responders, and God bless America.”
Leland read the Firefighter’s Prayer, indicating how a firefighter’s life has been closely associated with the tolling of the bell. The bell began the shift, sounded the alarm, and “signaled the end.”
“We remember our own commitments to duty and service. May the examples of those we remember inspire us to do our best. That we may be ready and prepared to respond to the needs of others. Help us to remember the bonds of love and affection that unite us to one another,” Leland said.
A Legion honor guard fired three shots. Retired Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling played “Taps.”
The bells tolled one last time, bringing the memorial remembering the thousands of victims, first responders, and service members to a close.