At somber ceremony, Aspen remembers Sept. 11
The Aspen Times
It’s been 13 years since the images of black smoke billowing from the World Trade Center against a sky-blue backdrop were forever ingrained in the minds of millions of Americans.
On Thursday, the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department honored the fallen firefighters from the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy with a touching ceremony in front of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department on East Hopkins Avenue. Several hundred people gathered for the ceremony with many tears shed again for the victims.
“This is a difficult time to remember,” said Rick Balentine, fire chief and CEO of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department. “But we won’t forget. Ever.”
The attacks killed almost 3,000 people and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage.
There were 343 American flags set up in front of the fire station to represent each firefighter who died on Sept. 11. Leaning on the department flagpole was a framed picture with mug shots of those 343 firefighters, a sobering reminder of the human loss.
Many of those faces were the same ones the terrified World Trade Center workers saw heading up the stairs to the places they were fleeing.
The previous biggest single loss of life for the New York Fire Department was in 1966 when 12 firefighters died at a building fire. On Sept. 11, entire fire departments were lost. There were chaplains, commanders, rookies, fathers and sons that died that day trying to save others, leading to the saying, “Strangers to most, heroes to all.”
Balentine led an emotional ceremony to honor the fallen firefighters. At one point, he rang a small bell that signifies a firefighter death, a moment that had many volunteer firefighters wiping away tears.
“This day isn’t just to remember the 343 firefighters,” Balentine said. “There were also 23 New York Police Department members and 37 Port Authority policemen that died that day. We want to remember and honor all the people that gave their lives that day.”
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo spoke to the crowd and shared how he grew up in Brooklyn and saw the World Trade Center being built in the early 1970s before watching them fall.
“At that time, they were the tallest buildings in the world,” DiSalvo said. “Those buildings were a great source of pride for many New Yorkers. Now it’s a horrible tragedy that many of us can’t forget.”
Aspen resident Maurice Emmer also shared his story about how lucky he was to be at home in Palo Alto, California, on Sept. 11. The night before, he took the final nonstop flight from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., to the Bay Area.
“If that flight had been canceled, I would have been on the first flight the next morning because I was a very high-mileage flier,” Emmer said. “That would have put me on the jet that got hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon. It just shows how close things are in life.”
The Fire Department Honor Guard then presented a wreath of red and white roses that was placed near the department flagpole. Chaplain Roy Holloway then led a prayer to honor the fallen and bless their families.
“I’ll always remember when the 9/11 tragedy occurred,” Holloway said. “It just rocked us to our core. Something like that doesn’t shake your faith. It just gives you a new perspective. It’s wonderful to see so many people show up today to honor those who died trying to help others.”
The ceremony ended with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” as the honor guard lowered the fire department’s flag to half-mast.
“I’m happy with the turnout, no matter how many people showed up today,” Balentine said. “This service was for the firefighters, and it was our honor to share this event with our community. ‘We shall never forget’ means never, and today we all remembered the events of 9/11.”
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.