Aspen honors 9/11 victims with 22nd annual Day of Remembrance

Aspen residents and visitors gather on Monday, Sept. 11 at the Aspen Fire House to take roses with names and photos attached of the firefighters who lost their lives during the attacks on 9/11.
Jonson Kuhn/The Aspen Times

Over a hundred people gathered at the Aspen Fire Station Monday for the 22nd Annual Day of Remembrance ceremony to remember those who died on September 11, 2001.

The ceremony began with the posting of colors from the Aspen Fire Honor Guard, who then lowered the flag at half mast while Trumpeter Richard Sundeen performed “Taps.”

Aspen Firefighter Ritchie Zah performed “Amazing Grace” during the wreath and helmet ceremony, followed by the tolling of the bells by Deputy Fire Marshal Ben Smith.

Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine gave welcoming remarks and began by reading from a letter written by Lt. Col. Dick Merritt of Basalt.

Aspen firefighters stand at attention during the 22nd annual Day of Remembrance ceremony held at the Aspen Fire Station Monday, Sept. 11.
Jonson Kuhn/The Aspen Times

Merritt’s letter spoke about the importance of upholding the tradition of gathering to honor the civilians, military members, and first responders that lost their lives or were injured on Sept. 11, 2001, closing with, “Let us never forget.”

Balentine echoed Merritt’s sentiment while addressing Monday’s crowd by sharing a recent story of someone asking him about the importance of Aspen Fire’s continued hosting of remembrance ceremonies, now 22 years later. Balentine said the importance was to never forget what the victim’s sacrifice means to the rest of the nation: freedom.

“It means a lot to have the people in the community come out here, we get people every year from all ages,” Balentine said. “We have visitors, full time residents, young and old, and seeing the kind of crowd that was here today, it’s really very encouraging that we have this kind of turnout even 22 years later.” 

Balentine read an excerpt from an oath that he said all firefighters are bound by, followed by leading the crowd in a round of applause for first responders.

Renowned photographer and Aspen resident Andrea Booher spoke next. Booher was working as a photojournalist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency during 9/11, and arrived at “Ground Zero” one day after the attacks to chronicle the work of FEMA’s search and rescue teams. She spent the next 10 weeks documenting the search for survivors.

Many of Booher’s photos were hung throughout the fire house, as well as Theatre Aspen, the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, and internationally. In sharing her experience, Booher said today was one of remembrance and gratitude for first responders.

Aspen Fire Honor Guard stand with boots full of roses to honor fallen firefighters on 9/11 at the Aspen Fire Station for this year’s annual Day of Remembrance.
Jonson Kuhn/The Aspen Times

“This is what first responders do,” Booher said to Monday’s crowd. “They run in when everyone else is running out…I’ve been told my images are beautiful, I think they’re hopeful because no matter the circumstances there are always moments of tenderness, love and joy, even on ‘the Pile.'”

After Booher, Aspen Theatre Producing Director and former New York resident Jed Bernstein was invited to the lectern to speak about his personal account while being President of the Broadway League in New York during 9/11.

Bernstein recently brought the play “The Guys” by Ann Nelson, to Aspen, which, based on a true story, shares the experiences of an editor and fire captain in New York just weeks after the attacks. Bernstein spoke about how he could recall the day of Sept. 11, 2001 being a “bluebird day,” and suggested it was perhaps, “God’s way of saying ‘Don’t get too comfortable.'”

“I’m ashamed to say that prior to that day I never gave a thought to the firefighters in our neighborhood,” Bernstein said. “I didn’t give much thought to the police except when traffic was interfering with theatergoers getting to theaters. I didn’t give much thought to any of the first responders. I have learned my lesson.”

Bernstein said for the last 20 years he’s attended every ceremony for the Broadway Fire House, which suffered the highest number of losses of all of the firehouses within New York City. Upon moving to Aspen in the last two years, Bernstein said he was “touched as a New Yorker” to find Aspen honoring the victims so many years later and 2,000 miles away. Bernstein closed by reading roll, following in the tradition of the Broadway Firehouse, Engine 54, Ladder 4.

Pitkin County Sheriff Michael Buglione, a New York native, also addressed the crowd and opened his remarks by paying respects to fallen Aspen officer Michael Ferrara. Buglione then shared a personal story of being in New York with his nephew in 1995. 

Large crowds honor 9/11 victims at the 22nd annual Day of Remembrance on Monday, Sept. 11 at the Aspen Fire Station.
Jonson Kuhn/The Aspen Times

While taking his nephew on a tour of the city, Buglione said that after purchasing a ticket to tour the World Trade Center, his nephew decided the line was too long to stand in, stating, “those buildings will always be there.”

Buglione read from a letter sent to him by his nephew years later expressing his regret for not waiting in the line, as well as his nephew’s experience in the ROTC during the attacks.

“New York City is the largest melting pot, probably in the world, and I would say Aspen is definitely a melting pot, as well, because we come from all over the country,” Buglione said. “So, I think it’s important that we carry this tradition on and never forget.” 

22nd annual Day of Remembrance at the Aspen Fire Station on Monday, Sept. 11.
Jonson Kuhn/The Aspen Times

Rabbi Mendel Mintz of the Chabad Jewish Community Center and Father Joseph Grady with St. Mary’s Catholic Church also took to the lectern to share their words, stories and offer blessings.

Balentine then gave closing remarks, followed by Aspen Fire Honor Guard retiring colors. Balentine ended the ceremony by playing one of the last songs written by the late Jimmy Buffett, a former Roaring Fork Valley resident, entitled, “Bubbles up,” a song that Balentine said was one that, “We all can relate to.”