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Ceremony Marks 9-11 Anniversary
Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello welcomes the crowd to the annual 9-11 memorial ceremony hosted by the fire department. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Times

It’s a day those who lived through won’t forget – Sept. 11, 2001.

Terrorists took over planes and crashed two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one flew in to the Pentagon and another, destination uncertain, went down in a field in Pennsylvania when passengers fought back against the terrorists and forced the plane down short of its intended target.

A few dozen people gathered outside the Escalon Firehouse on Coley Avenue to remember the tragic events of that day, in a ceremony hosted at 9:11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 11.

Fire Chief Rick Mello welcomed those attending and outlined the events of Sept. 11 – 13 years ago, from the first plane striking the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time) to the collapse of the tower at 10:28 a.m.

“A total of 2,650 people died in the towers, 125 at the Pentagon, 266 on the planes,” Mello said. “There were 37 Port Authority officers, 23 New York City police officers and 343 New York City firefighters lost that day.”

In addition, Mello said another 2,500 rescue workers have fallen to cancer, contracted while working on rescue operations at Ground Zero and another 6,802 U.S. soldiers lost in the continuing War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among those in attendance for the ceremony were Escalon resident Brent Layton, who lost his son James in Afghanistan in September. 2009. He was a naval corpsman and was killed while tending to wounded on the battlefield.

“Five years, sometimes it seems like yesterday,” Layton said following the ceremony. “There’s no time frame for us.”

Layton said the loss is felt every day, but he has become an activist on behalf of military personnel, working to make sure they are well taken care of, abroad and at home. Also attending was Mike Anderson, a veteran’s affairs liaison for Congressman Jeff Denham. Anderson lost his son, a Marine, in Iraq in 2004 so this year marks the 10th anniversary of his loss.

“We don’t want to be Gold Stars,” Layton said of joining the ranks of families who have lost children to war. “But this is the hand we were dealt. We are a pretty tight knit group.”

Guest speaker for the 9-11 memorial was Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, who represents Escalon in the 12th Assembly District.

“I’m sure we all remember where we were,” Olsen said of how that day is seared into the memory banks of Americans. “We had never seen such terror on American soil. But what we also saw was such unity and patriotism, built in all areas of this country. We set aside our differences.”

Olsen said the very attacks that were meant to destroy the country instead brought it together in a show of unrivaled patriotism.

She also praised those that responded without a second thought to their own safety.

“I am so thankful for all of the first responders,” she said, offering a nod of continued thanks to the long line of Escalon fire, police and ambulance personnel attending the ceremony.

A bell ringing, the raising of the flag and lowering it to half-staff and a moment of silence were also observed.

Olsen went on to quote the late President Ronald Reagan, who indicated that “Freedom is not free. It must be protected, it must be fought for.”

Olsen said we must keep his words close to our collective heart, and support the men and women of the armed forces that put those words into action.

Chief Mello agreed that the focus needs to stay on vigilance.

“As a nation, we have to remember,” he said of the attacks. “We can’t be complacent.”

Layton said his son’s death has opened up new doors and opportunities for him in ways he never would have expected, with new relationships formed and new goals set.

“There’s so much good that has come out of this and it’s James working, it’s what he would have wanted,” Layton said of his work on behalf of service members. “We use these opportunities to talk, to work, to make sure things don’t happen again … where they left the torch, we need to pick it up.”