This year I wasn’t able to drive down for either and instead stopped by the local Oconomowoc, WI Fire Department’s Station 2 this morning to at least observe the modest ceremony they had planned. Just spending even a few moments of that particular day on Fire Department soil still remains important, even 13 years after.
The local department, though small in number, had raised a flag high over the station on their elevated platform, and the Chief made a few eloquent remarks about both the tragedy of that day and the reverence reserved for the day annually by the fire service. Reading a short poem, or listing a few statistics could not cover up the occasional interruption caused as emotion made it difficult to speak. A reporter earlier asked why the department had this ceremony each year, and the Chief responded, “Well, I can give you 343 reasons right now,” and then explained further.
As a retired firefighter, and one of only two or three non-department observers, I was invited to line up along with less than a dozen active firefighters who were on hand for the ceremony. The Chief began reading the names of the 343 firefighters who had lost their lives at Ground Zero, and after reading a page of names handed the list to the next person in line who continued for a page soon passing the list on to the next, and so on.
I was deeply honored to have been part of the line of readers and did my part reading the names, ranks and duty assignment of a page full of firefighters I had never met, yet considered brothers. It was, perhaps, one of the most moving opportunities I’ve had on an already emotionally-charged date.