By MADDY VITALE
There isn’t a person who doesn’t remember where they were when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were taken down by terrorists in planes.
Or where they were when an airliner crashed into the Pentagon or when the passengers on a hijacked plane heroically fought to regain control of the jet when it crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
Twenty years ago, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on 9/11.
On Saturday, Ocean City emergency responders, dignitaries and the community came out to honor and remember in a somber ceremony at the Fire Department headquarters.
Billio Olaschinez was long retired from the U.S. Department of Justice by Sept, 11, 2001. But he worked as an auctioneer, contracted by the New York City Police Department, to auction off vehicles. He became friendly with the officers.
“It’s been 20 years. I always say to myself, ‘It will get better.’ It never gets better,” Olaschinez, of Upper Township, said, his voice choked with emotion.
More than 400 police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers died in New York on 9/11.
He described what it was like for the emergency workers at Ground Zero.
“Battered, torn, and on fire,” he said, as he pointed to a flag from 9/11.
Despite its tattered condition, he said, the flag was still intact, as is the strength of the American people.
He spoke of the law enforcement officers he knew who lost their lives on that day. John Perry was one of them.
Video courtesy of Martin Fiedler, Just Right TV Productions.
Perry was a member of the New York City Police Department. He was to retire that day. Instead, he put his retirement papers aside to work one more day. It would be his last.
“Being the hero that he was, he said, ‘I’ll be back later to finish that.’ On the third trip out, he was carrying a disabled woman on his back and the building collapsed,” Olaschinez pointed out. “Those are the heroes of Sept. 11.”
Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian also used the ceremony to recognize the bravery of the first responders.
“The city came together, paying tribute to the brave men and women who gave their lives,” Gillian said.
He spoke of the years since the attacks on 9/11, when the city held ceremonies with guest speakers ranging from firefighters who were on the scene to members of the media who covered it.
Twenty years later, there is strength and fortitude, Gillian said.
“Hope has been a common theme of everybody,” he said.
He noted that recent high school graduates were not born at the time of 9/11.
“We need to teach children about that day,” he said.
The laying of a commemorative wreath was done by Ocean City Deputy Fire Chief Tom Shallcross and Ocean City Police Officer Jacob Harris at the city’s 9/11 memorial, which features a beam recovered from the charred remains of the World Trade Center. Jeff MacNeill played the bagpipes.
During the poignant and emotional ceremony, there were several important traditions that were performed.
Ocean City Fire Chief Jim Smith repeatedly rang a bell, an act that symbolizes the death of a firefighter in the line of duty, called the “striking of the four fives.” He did so in honor of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
He spoke of what it is like to be a firefighter, how differing strong opinions are commonplace in firehouses. He explained that there are many different personalities and at times they clash.
But when it comes to their duty, the firefighters show why they have such a difficult profession.
Firefighters, Smith noted, are intelligent, strong and brave.
“As a fire chief, my job is easier because of the job my guys do. One responsibility I hope no chief should have to perform is the striking of the four fives,” he added.
When something comes on the TV in the firehouse about 9/11, the chief said all of the firefighters become quiet.
“There is that eerie feeling, when the attitudes and clashes stop and the only sound you hear is the TV,” Smith said. “I hope we will never forget all those who perished that day.”