Aspen remembers 9/11 with thoughts, prayers and stories of tragic day
Dark clouds formed over Smuggler Mountain and a breeze picked up Tuesday just as Aspen’s fire chief asked for a moment of silence to remember those killed, including the nearly 400 first responders, in the 9/11 attacks 17 years ago.
The only sound that could be heard was the giant flag overhanging from a fire truck ladder flapping in the wind.
A few hundred people gathered, sitting in chairs in front of the firehouse or standing on Hopkins Avenue with their bikes, dogs or alongside loved ones. Locals and visitors stopped as they came upon the memorial service.
Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine led the annual remembrance. Standing next to a piece of North Tower steel adorned with a firefighter’s helmet and a wreath, Balentine reflected on the 2,996 people who died that day.
“Remember the sacrifice and pay tribute to bravery, including the 343 firefighters, of those who lost their lives that day,” he said. “And also for those who continue to respond selflessly across the nation in service to their community.”
Tuesday evening, about a dozen firefighters walked with nearly 75 community members in the third annual Axes and Arms 9/11 Climb. The 3-mile walk from Snowmass Village Town Park to the Top of the Village Condos gained 956 feet, which was the same elevation first responders had to climb up the first World Trade Center tower. The group was escorted up Brush Creek Road by a number of emergency vehicles.
The Snowmass event benefits the Axes and Arms Foundation, which helps emergency service personnel in the Roaring Fork Valley if they get into a time of need.
In addition to those killed that day in 2001, Fire Chaplain Roy Holloway asked the Aspen crowd to think of the first responders who have died since the attacks because of illnesses caused by working at Ground Zero.
“Please remember those who continue to lose their lives because of the pollution they ingested and the cancers that they are dying from and will continue to do so for years and years,” Holloway said. “We need to keep those people in our thoughts and prayers as well as their families who are still suffering because of that.”
Nic Milton, 42, is a newbie in the Fire Department after living in Aspen for 18 years. After signing up last summer, he takes his final exam in less than two weeks to become a full member of the volunteer squad.
Wearing his yellow helmet, a sign of a trainee, Milton attended Tuesday’s remembrance and saw things a bit differently from the inside. He moved to Aspen from London less than a year before 9/11 happened.
“It makes it a lot more special,” he said of his standing alongside firefighters on this day, “especially when you think back to where you were on 9/11. As an Englishman having lived here and married an American girl and having a couple of kids now, at the end of the day we’re all the same. It’s a special time when memorials like this happen.
“I just wanted to give a little bit back after living in this community for 18 years. I needed to do a little bit more than work my job and take care of my family, and this is a great way of doing it.”
Longtime resident, businessman and philanthropist Dick Butera, who moved to Aspen in 1982 and is a member of the Aspen Hall of Fame, was in the crowd Tuesday. Balentine asked him to speak about those days after 9/11.
Butera was working 17 years ago just blocks from the Twin Towers at the Regent Wall Street hotel, which he helped design and build a few years earlier. The hotel’s ballroom became a restaurant for nearly 3,600 first-responders working in the days after.
“I stood there watching the whole thing. Then Mayor Rudy Giuliani said they would need to make the morgue in our ballroom,” Butera told the crowd. “Of course, there were no bodies, so he called back and said ‘you’re the feeding center for everybody.’ Food came from everywhere.”
For 10 days they served 36,000 meals out of the ballroom to those working in the aftermath of the attack.
“I never served in the military, but I saw heroes that day,” Butera said after Tuesday’s ceremony.
He was having breakfast on a terrace when “we saw the stuff in the air. We ran down to see what it was. It never leaves you.”
“I can still feel the emotion of that day, when I was standing at the bottom of the two towers watching people jump out the windows and the horror of seeing this,” he said. “However, I feel privileged to be one American who could do something that day, because all of us wanted to do something that day. I just happened to be at that spot.”
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