Firefighters and police officers formed up in front of the Central Fire Station Tuesday on a clear, September morning — a morning like the one 11 years earlier on that same Sept. 11 day.
That, too, was a beautiful, if average, Tuesday morning. Then came tragedy, when two jet-liners crashed into both towers of New York’s World Trade Center, another into The Pentagon, and a third slammed into a field in Pennsylvania.
The planes, hijacked by terrorists seemed to stop the world that morning, when some 3,000 lost their lives.
Yesterday, Gloucester Firefighters and police officers gathered with residents, state Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, Mayor Carolyn Kirk, other city officials — and a group from St. Ann’s School at the city’s annual 9/11 memorial service.
Together, they remembered tragedy — and the triumph of American and human spirit in the days after the towers fell.
Jim Marr remembers. Marr was Gloucester’s police chief on Sept. 11, 2001, and recalled being up early that day.
His daughter had to catch an American Airlines Flight to Newark from Logan International Airport. Marr said he left the airport around 6:30 a.m and headed back to the police station.
After the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, struck the Trade Center’s north tower, 8:46 a.m, Marr said an officer told him to look at the television. He saw the second plane hit at 9:46 a.m.
American Airlines flight 11 left Logan at 7:59 a.m. Marr said his daughter’s flight left the same time. He called and made it through to American Airlines.
“I remained on the line saying to myself, my God this is not looking good,” Marr said.
The woman on the line said his daughter’s flight made it to Newark, N.J. He didn’t hear from his daughter for several hours.
Gloucester, he said, then underwent the largest security operation the department has ever seen. Crews were posted at the three bridges connecting the island to the mainland, in boats under the bridges, and made an extra-ordinary amount of traffic stops looking for anything unusual.
“As we all do in public safety, we put family matters aside and move ahead,” said Marr.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk told those at the ceremony to remember not only the attacks but how they changed the city and the nation.
“Not only do we want to remember what took place on this day, 11 years ago, but (we want) to remember the things that stay with us,” Kirk said.
Kirk said she told her kids about what followed the attacks, in Iraq, Afghanistan — about the 2011 capture and death of Osama bin Laden, head of Al-Qaida, the group that planned and executed the attacks of 9/11/01.
“And I told them about how you have to take your shoes off when you go through the airport,” Kirk said
She said she was struck by what had changed but said that for her and her family, fear will never take the place of the freedoms people have in this country. The next time they fly, she said, they’ll fly fearlessly.
Kirk opened the ceremony with the Pledge of Allegiance, and 20 middle school students from St. Ann’s school joined her. The school, said Danielle O’Connor, a middle school teacher, tries to attend the service every year. The middle school students,she said, were barely old enough to remember the tragedy, adding that it’s important that they understand.
Tayler Schultz understood all too well. He’s an eighth-grade student, and was 2 when the towers fell.
But he told of how his uncle, Sean McNulty, a stock broker at the World Trade Center, died in the attacks. He said it’s better to remember Sept. 11 than try to pretend that it never happened.
“It’s better to commemorate it ... than try to cover it up,” said Tayler, whose father, Sander Schultz, is the Fire Department’s emergency medical services coordinator. “It’s better to teach it almost in the field than in the classroom,” Tayler said.
Marking the exact time the first plane hit the North tower, Fire Chief Eric Smith and Gloucester firefighters and police officers paused for a salute of the half-staff flag above Central Fire Station. The station’s alarm rang out in four sets of five bursts, a memorial to those firefighters, police officers and first responders who ran in to the falling skyscrapers.
State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante said she remembers how the nation united after the attacks.
“We saw the human spirit triumph over terror,” Ferrante said.
“We will never, or should we ever forget,” said State Sen. Bruce Tarr.
Everything seemed to stop when the planes hit, Tarr said. In the immediate moments, he said, people called relatives and held ones close to them. They then wondered why it happened. And then, he said, they took charge of what happened, and came together. Flags went on lapel pins, porches, and even bumper stickers.
“Americans rose up and said we believe in freedom and democracy,” Tarr said, “and we’ll never stop working to share these things with the rest of the world.” Tarr said.
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevenGDT