Saturday, Sept. 11 saw a sizeable crowd turn out at the Escalon fire station on Coley Avenue, with an observance noting the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I appreciate you all being here, there are a lot of other places you could be,” Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said in welcoming the crowd.
This year marked the 15th time that Mello and his firefighters have hosted an observance, coinciding with the number of years he has served as chief at Escalon Fire.
Some attendees filled in the rows of chairs set up outside the fire station while others stood behind and off to the side, many clutching small American flags. A glass jar that held pieces of debris from United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on that fateful day when passengers fought with hijackers, was brought in and displayed this year as well. Brought by Saundra Miller, she said it was from her cousin’s property in Pennsylvania, close to where Flight 93 crashed.
Mello outlined the ceremony for the crowd as well, noting that two songs are traditionally played.
“They are songs that have touched the heart,” he said, indicating the “Have You Forgotten?” song by Darryl Worley and “God Bless The U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood as being forever linked to the terrorist attacks that saw the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City and damage to the Pentagon along with the crash of the plane in the Pennsylvania countryside.
Mello also provided a count of the lives lost that day, from those on the planes to those at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the vast numbers of first responders that made the ultimate sacrifice.
Since then, he told the crowd, more casualties can be directly linked to 9/11 including those service members lost in the War on Terror, and many first responders succumbing to cancer as a result of their work at Ground Zero.
Standing at attention across from the crowd was a mix of Escalon and Farmington firefighters, Escalon Police Officers and Escalon Community Ambulance personnel.
“They are the blue line that stands between you and harm’s way,” Mello said, indicating the local first responders, drawing applause from the crowd.
The chief said he also was touched by the special presentation on Friday night prior to the varsity football game kickoff, as a folded flag was brought in behind the American Legion color guard and another flag, unfurled, was carried in by players. They paid homage to those lost on 9/11 and the 13 service members killed recently in Afghanistan in a suicide attack; the names of all 13 were read by PA announcer Nick Caton on Friday night.
“It was an amazing tribute,” Mello said of the Friday night display.
Twenty years after the terrorist attacks, about 40 percent of the victims remain unidentified and the work to identify them all continues.
Battalion Chief Moe Silva rendered a Firefighter Bell Ceremony to signify those lost and Pastor Dave Vander Meulen of Escalon Christian Reformed Church offered a prayer. Also taking the podium to speak was Mike Anderson, who lost his son, Mike Jr., in combat during the War on Terror.
“These ceremonies are part of our history, part of our legacy,” Anderson said. “It’s important to the community, it’s important to these people in blue. My first born, my only son, he was a gunfighter in the United Sates Marine Corps and he unselfishly sacrificed himself.”
Anderson also thanked those “in blue” at the ceremony, telling the local first responders: “Keep up the good work. I appreciate you.”
Escalon youngsters Noah, 9, and Quinn Nelson, 8, were among those holding the American flags and often waved them during the ceremony.
Mello said to see children in attendance, to see their show of patriotism, gave him hope.
“We all remember where we were when that happened,” Mello said of that moment in time, 20 years ago. “We were not Red America, we were not Blue America … we were the United States of America.”
He said the unity shown then is something we should strive to return to, as a nation united is stronger than a nation divided.