By RICHARD F. BELISLE
10:42 PM EDT, September 11, 2011
Even the timing of the Independent Fire Co.’s 9/11 memorial service Sunday morning was on target.
The ceremony, in front of the fire hall’s side entrance before an audience of nearly 100, began at 9:59 a.m., the exact time that the World Trade Center’s South Tower came crashing down from the impact of United Airlines’ Flight 175.
It ended at 10:28 a.m., when the North Tower collapsed, the victim of American Airlines’ Flight 11.
Henry Christie, fire department chaplain and ceremony organizer, planned things that way.
Christie also planned the bell-ringing sequences, a holdover from the days when residents knew the location of a fire by the number of rings of the firehouse bell.
The sequence of three sets of five tones is the traditional way to remember fallen firefighters, he said.
The bell was rung Sunday for the passengers and crews of Flight 11 and Flight 175 in New York City, Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon and Flight 93 that crashed in a Shanksville, Pa., field.
There was a silent 15-second pause between each sequence.
“There is a hole in the ground in Shanksville that will remain as a memorial to those killed there,” Christie told the audience. “There is a hole on Manhattan’s Lower West Side that is slowly being rebuilt. The hole in the Pentagon has been repaired, but the hole in the hearts of the loved ones of the victims and those injured will remain as long as they live.”
The weather that Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, was much the same as it was Sunday morning in Charles Town, a warm, late-summer day with clear blue skies.
Christie said 2,500 civilians and 343 firefighters were lost on 9/11, as were 60 police officers and 55 military personnel.
The featured speaker was Randy Gray, a retired firefighter who lives in Jefferson County, W.Va. On 9/11, Gray was assistant chief of operations for the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department and one of the first to respond to the Pentagon.
He was in a leadership training session less than two miles away when the plane hit, he said.
He raced to his station, got dressed and headed to the Pentagon. He said he didn’t realize he was racing to a terrorist attack until he learned moments later about the World Trade Center.
“I knew then that it was not an accident, and I was scared,” Gray said.
He called his wife to tell her to pick up their children and get home.
He said it’s hard to describe the scene he came upon.
“It was the worst I’d ever seen. I was familiar with the Pentagon because I’d been there many times,” he said.
The building covers 29 acres, has five floors divided into five connected sections front to back, 17 miles of corridors and 23,000 employees, he said.
“The building was collapsed. There was fire and smoke and people everywhere,” Gray said.
The plane ended up well into the third section.
Gray said he still recalls with pride the way the victims were on their own helping themselves and each other, trying to reach safety.
Included in Sunday’s program were the singing of the national anthem and “God Bless America” by Washington High School students Colleen Wermers and Alora Ray, respectively; taps by Alex Ouimet of Boy Scout Troop 82; and Joe Kent performing on the bagpipes.
Christie said the fire department holds a 9/11 remembrance ceremony on the anniversary date every year.
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