Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Saturday, September 11, the City of Hattiesburg observed the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with a ceremony to honor lives lost during the attacks at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon and aboard Flight 93 in 2001.
Remarks were made by Fire Chief Sherrocko Stewart, Police Chief Peggy Sealy and Mayor Toby Barker. The ceremony also included a special keynote by Hattiesburg Firefighter Engineer Alexander Redondo [full transcript of remarks can be found at the end of this page].
Ceremonial elements also included the lowering of the flag by Hattiesburg Fire Honor Guard, the national anthem played by Southern Miss alum John Eze Uzodinma II, a 21-Gun Salute by Hattiesburg Police Honor Guard, “Taps” played by Navy Veteran Howell Purvis, a wreath-laying and “Amazing Grace” played by Gerry Burns of the Forrest County Emergency Management District on the bagpipe.
This ceremony has been held annually at Fire Station #1 since the attacks in 2001.
REMARKS BY ENG. ALEXANDER REDONDO
My dad had a collection of matchbooks… and this particular box is from a famous restaurant that was on the 107th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
The restaurant was called Windows on the World… and it was a befitting name for a restaurant that had the best views in all of New York City.
To a kid – it seemed like I could see to the ends of the earth.
I had been to the top of the towers a handful of times over the years — to the restaurant… to the observation deck… but never imagined, I wouldn’t have the chance to go ever again.
We can all remember where we were that day – the day the world stood still.
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday morning of my senior year of high school.
I went to an all-boys school in Staten Island, New York called Monsignor Farrell High School. In homeroom that morning, like all mornings, the tv’s in each of the classrooms came on – usually to broadcast our in house morning tv program – which showed daily school related news. But on this day… those tv’s were showing something different…
At the time, I thought it was odd that they were showing a movie in homeroom. A movie of a plane… crashing into one of the Twin Towers.
And as I watched confused at what I was seeing, it took me a
minute to remember that I could see the top of the towers from where I was sitting. My classroom was on the Manhattan-facing side of the building and since it was my senior year, my homeroom and all of my classes took place on the top floor of the building. It was high enough that just over the tree tops you could see what were the two tallest buildings in Manhattan… the twin towers.
As I looked on… I couldn’t see where the plane made impact, but I could see the smoke rising into the sky… and after having looked back at the tv, I realized… this wasn’t a movie… it was live footage from ground zero. And as I watched confused at what i was seeing.. I thought to myself… obviously this was some kind of terrible accident…
Of course, New York City is surrounded by three major airports… so it was nothing out of the ordinary to see airplanes in the sky around Manhattan and the five boroughs.
I thought to myself… something has obviously gone very wrong.
As I was trying to process what I was seeing… students and teachers from the other side of the hallway began making their way over…
To have a look out of our windows…
And as we all watched with confusion
And disbelief… the second plane hit the South Tower.
It became evident that this was not an accident or mistake… and just when everyone thought it couldn’t get any worse… there were reports of other planes being hijacked.
And confusion and disbelief turned into terror and hopelessness and if you’ve never experienced hopelessness, let me be the one to tell you…. It’s a lonely place…maybe the loneliest of places.
I remember thinking to myself that “this was it…” I was scared… and for a moment, I feared for my life.
And as I looked around at the other people in my classroom…my teacher, my classmates… my friends, my brothers…
They were experiencing those feelings as well.
And in those moments, I’m sure I shared those feelings with all eight million New Yorkers.
As I watched the towers smoke and burn I remember the sound of sirens could be heard outside of my school,
Without hesitation… first responders, both on and off duty that morning, had dropped what they were doing and were headed to help.
First responders doing what we… have all taken that oath to do,
to protect and to serve..
to put service, before self…
And even though we were on a completely different borough, with no direct access from Staten Island to Manhattan, all of the sirens I heard outside of my school were headed in the same direction…unmistakably towards lower Manhattan.
Eventually the unthinkable happened: The towers collapsed
The footage on tv of those towers coming down was surreal… it was unlike anything I had ever seen. The towers for me were a real thing – something I had fond memories of and something i was able to look at and appreciate on a daily basis… and watching them come down, knowing that in that moment all those people lost their lives was heartbreaking.
I thought about my parents. My dad worked in lower Manhattan, and although it would be unusual for him to be around ground zero, he did have buildings in the area… he was a director for New York University and NYU’s campus is based all throughout lower Manhattan. He immediately began damage control – trying to account for students and employees but when the towers came down… communications came down with them. So for a while there was no way for him to get in touch with his people or for us to get in touch with him.
Out of precaution, bridges and ferries in and out of the city were shut down and not knowing his fate I remember seeing footage of people walking across the bridges to get out of Manhattan and wondering if he was one of them… but he wasn’t. He eventually called and put our minds at ease.
And for a few weeks while New York City was on lockdown… my mom and I took refuge at our house on Staten Island and my dad remained at our apartment in Manhattan – piecing together what he could in the aftermath.
The pile at ground zero smoldered for what seemed like months after that… and with it silenced an entire city…
A city in shock.
A city in disbelief.
A city in mourning.
A city that was unsure about when it could return to normal,
if that was even possible.
The iconic skyline of New York City…forever changed.
The people of New York City… forever changed.
There was not only a hole in the sky, but a hole in the hearts of all New Yorkers… and although our hearts were broken…. they were still beating.
From the ashes at ground zero, a stronger… more resilient… and more patriotic city and its people emerged.
We were determined to turn tragedy into triumph, and we rallied around each other, and our first responders.
But for the days, weeks and months after 9/11, as the city was trying to heal – the footage was being shown on every news channel, in every newspaper and the topic of everyone’s everyday conversations.
Weeks later I remember being exhausted…exhausted of seeing, hearing and talking about what happened.
I remember wanting it to stop – not because I didn’t care or lacked empathy… But because I was just emotionally drained……
But it wasn’t over.
And months later… when the fires at ground zero were finally extinguished and the dust had finally settled… the funerals began…
thousands of them.
Endless pages of obituaries, stories of loved ones lost, family members gone never to be found or heard from again.
Funeral processions were a daily occurrence, and for months I distinctly remember the sound of bagpipes being played at funerals for first responders.
In the Bible, book of John, Chapter 15 Verse 13 – it says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”
There were 2,977 casualties that day.
The Monsignor Farrell High School family lost 28 alumni.
It also took the lives of 37 Port Authority police officers of New York and New Jersey, 23 New York Police Officers, 8 Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics, 1 patrolman from the New York Fire Patrol; and of course, the 343 members of the Fire Department of the city of New York.
I was devastated, and it wasn’t until years later that I was even willing to watch footage or talk about what happened that day…
It wasn’t until years later when I traveled back to New York, as I watched airplanes flying into one of the airports just a few miles from where the towers once stood that I realized how much it affected me…
What happened that day affected all of us.
And my story is just one… of a kid in a classroom. In New York City, on September 11.
Since the towers came down, I’ve never been back to the site of the world trade center and even though they say time heals all wounds… this one still hurts.
We remained in New York until the end of that school year before moving to Mississippi. So, my path following the events of 9/11 did not lead me directly to the fire service.
My call to serve was not an immediate one.
But it was at that moment, on that day, twenty years ago, that I knew that my life… and my path were going to be one of servitude.
I knew I wanted to choose a career that I could be proud of and the Hattiesburg Fire Department provided that. A life of pride, discipline, and integrity…
A life of commitment and courage….
A life of camaraderie and brotherhood…
And ya know as I look around at this crowd… at my brothers and sisters… my colleagues… my friends – I see men and women with that same grit, who are cut from that same cloth…. of those that made the ultimate sacrifice that day.
General Douglas MacArthur said:
“Duty, honor, country: those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be… what you will be.
They are your rally points:
To build courage when courage seems to fail;
To regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
So today, as we mourn those that were lost on this day twenty years ago… may we continue to never forget.
I pray that the 343 firefighters that died that day know that they may rest easy… and that we’ll take it from here.
I pray that their families and friends…. and the ones affected most by their loss.. can find solace in the fact, that although once loud voices have slowly diminished… the City of Hattiesburg and the Hattiesburg Fire Department will continue to honor them.
We will never forget
I… will never forget