How could anyone forget the 343 firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001?
If you were alive and above the age of reason on that day 12 years ago, you remember exactly where you were when heard about the planes flying into the World Trade Center and later into the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa. Here in Chicago, the skies were cloud-free, blue and still.
When we learned that 343 firefighters died in the tower collapse, we all promised to remember. Do they know we kept our promise?
Do the 343 firefighters know that thousands of people gathered at the World Trade Center site yesterday to commemorate the 3,000 lives lost 12 years ago? Through songs and silence, families and friends gathered to remember their lost loved ones — fathers and mothers, sons and daughters in camaraderie with strangers that only common sorrow can create.
Do the 343 firefighters know that social media was filled with remembrances of 9/11? Endless pictures of firefighters and rubble, the Twin Towers and twin beams of light filled the Internet and smartphones. Neither Facebook nor Twitter was around in 2001, but those technologies helped give voices to those who remembered.
Do the 343 firefighters know that fire departments across the country, metro to suburban to rural, remembered them in their own way? Just over 809 miles west of New York City in suburban Chicago, the Stone Park Fire Department held a “Celebration of Heroes.” Chicago District Chief Tim Sampey gave the keynote address, in which he recalled working seven days in a row at Ground Zero, removing buckets of rubble and watching bodies being carried out of the pile. Sampey recalled how the Cliffside Fire Department in New Jersey welcomed the team from Chicago and fed them before and after their long days on scene. The brotherhood grew.
I believe the 343 firefighters killed know they will be remembered so long as those who lived through that day remain. Our generation will keep the vigil, as previous generations remind us of the 2,335 sailors who died in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
We will remember and we will pray for peace.