Firefighters, police officers, EMTs and members of the community gathered for a solemn ceremony on Monday morning, marking 16 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In a ceremony staged outside the Escalon Fire Station on Coley Avenue, Fire Chief Rick Mello welcomed attendees and said it is important to continue gathering on the anniversary of the day that changed the nation.
“It has been called our generation’s Pearl Harbor,” he said of the attacks. “It’s a day we can never forget.”
On that September morning, 16 years ago, two hijacked airliners crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City; a third struck the Pentagon and a fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania, believed to have been forced down short of its intended target by passengers who fought back against the hijackers. The incident immersed the United States in the War on Terrorism.
Mello offered a brief timeline of the day, from the impact of first airliner hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m.; the South Tower struck at 9:03 a.m.; the Pentagon hit at 9:40 a.m.; and the first of the towers falling, the South Tower, at 10:05 a.m.
The fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania at 10:10 a.m.; the North Tower crumbled to the ground at 10:28 a.m.
In its wake, the coordinated terrorist attack claimed the life of 2,650 people in the Towers, 125 at the Pentagon, 266 on the planes, along with 343 New York City firefighters, 37 Port Authority officers and 23 New York City Police Department officers.
Since then, more than 6,800 military personnel have been lost in the War on Terrorism, including James Layton of Escalon, killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009. His grandmother, Shirley Layton Hughes, was on hand for the Monday observance.
A bell ceremony to honor the ‘last shift’ for those lost was conducted and a ‘red line’ flag was raised and then lowered to half-staff in recognition of the supreme sacrifice given by so many that day.
Tami Doom of Escalon, a United Airlines flight attendant, who was active on that day and remains in the profession, also offered a few words.
“9/11 changed our country, it changed my profession,” she said. “I was in Rochester, New York at the time and my husband told me I’d better turn on the TV and watch what was happening.”
Doom has attended the Escalon ceremony nearly every year since it has been hosted and still grieves the loss of friends and colleagues from that day.
“I am very proud of the training we receive,” she said of being prepared.
But, she said, the thought of another attack is never far away.
“We do think of that every time we step on an aircraft,” said admitted.
She offered thanks and praise to those in the emergency services in Escalon, assembled in a long ‘blue line’ of ambulance, fire and police officers.
“You risk your lives every day for us,” she said.
Doom also thanked the fire department and the city for continuing to offer the ceremony.
Mello said it will be an annual event as long as he serves as chief.
Pastor Arney Corbin offered a prayer and Couper Condit, representative of Assemblyman Heath Flora, also offered a few remarks.
Mello added that “it’s an ugly time to be a first responder” and asked those in attendance to keep Escalon’s first responders in their prayers.
“This blue line is what is between you and harm’s way,” he said.
In closing out the ceremony, Mello said that the community and fire department also lost a good friend when Brent Layton, father of James, passed away unexpectedly in June, 2015. He was active on behalf of Gold Star Families and is buried at the local Burwood Cemetery. However, at the time of his burial, there was not enough money for a headstone and Mello and Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro recently concluded a fundraising drive to secure one. The receipt for the headstone – which will be placed on the grave later this year – was presented to Layton’s mother, Shirley, at the ceremony.