CLARKSVILLE — As community members stood together in silence, four sets of five rings from a bell reverberated through the crowd, each ring honoring the 343 New York City emergency responders who lost their lives in 9/11. The 5-5-5-5 code has historically been used to signal the death of firefighters killed in action.
The bell ringing was part of a 9/11 memorial service Wednesday at Mission BBQ in Clarksville to recognize the lives lost in the tragedy and the sacrifices made by firefighters, police and other first responders in the line of duty. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost 18 years ago after four hijacked planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and — after the plane was taken back over by passengers — an open field near Shanksville, Pa.
The service also included a performance of the National Anthem and a presentation of colors, and the barbecue restaurant provided free sandwiches to first responders, including many police officers and firefighters from local agencies. A memorial outside the restaurant featured items related to 9/11, including photographs of first responders who lost their lives and a piece of steel that belonged to the World Trade Center towers — the steel recovered from the collapse of the towers was borrowed from the New Albany Fire Department, where it is displayed at its Spring Street headquarters.
At Wednesday's service, New Albany Fire Department Battalion Chief Matt Bowyer spoke of the significance of the bell ringing ceremony, saying it honors the memory of the New York City firefighters who "made the supreme sacrifice in the performance of duty" on Sept. 11, 2001. He was watching the television with his fellow firefighters when the second plane hit the World Trade Center's South Tower.
"We watched the second plane hit, and there was just silence — nobody said anything," he said. "And then it just spiraled from there. I remember everything about that day."
Ben Brown, general manager of Mission BBQ in Clarksville, said they gathered Wednesday to "never forget and always remember" the first responders who lost their lives in the tragedy.
"The chilling images of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and field in [Shanksville] PA are forever etched in our memory," he said. "It was on September 11, 2001 that we were reminded who the real heroes are," Brown said. "They are our bravest and finest who ran in so others could run out — nothing different than what they do each and every day in communities across this great nation of ours."
John Miller, public information officer for the Clarksville Fire Department, was in the seventh grade when teachers at his school turned on their televisions after the first plane hit the North Tower. About 15 minutes later, he watched as the second plane hit the South Tower.
"It's hard to believe that it was 18 years ago that it took place, but even though it was 18 years ago, I still remember the exact place I was at, the people I was talking to and what I was doing on that day. It really was the day that the world stopped spinning. It's a sad day, and we'll never forget."
The ceremony gave him goosebumps, he said — the memorial featured audio of the radio dispatches from the first responders in New York City on 9/11, which "raises the hair on the back of your neck," he said. It was meaningful for him to see community members come together to pay their respects at Wednesday's memorial.
"I think that's the important message — that everyone comes together," Miller said. "Even as crazy as the world is today, we can all come together on one day and get things done, and it means something."
Justin Ames, public information officer for the Jeffersonville Fire Department, was 20 years old on 9/11, and he can still remember the day hour by hour. His alarm clock at the time was a radio, and he woke up to the news of the first plane crash into the North Tower.
"I remember driving to work and tears went down my face, and they closed work that day," he said. "You went home and just hugged your family and spent time with your family. I think everyone went out and bought an American flag, because everyone had one on their cars and in their yards and in their houses."
Ames said Mission BBQ is constantly showing support for first responders by bringing food to fire stations and police departments, and he appreciates their support. He attended Wednesday's 9/11 ceremony to honor his "fallen brothers and sisters of that day."
"The main message I would love people to get out of the memorial is, take a moment and think about those who had the worst days of their lives and the worst hours of their lives," he said. "Think of those desperate souls who jumped because that was their only chance. Think about those first responders who marched in when everyone ran out. We do it because it's our job — we don't think about the end result."