Ceremonies remember victims, heroes of 2001 terrorist attacks
Post-Tribune staff reports September 11, 2013 12:50PM
Lawrence Wirtz, 11, (front) passes out cards with photos of badges of members of the Crown Point police and fire departments at the 12th annual Sept. 11 memorial service hosted by First United Methodist Church in conjunction with the City. Other young parishioners including Wirtz brother David, 10, (from right) Danielle Hargreabes and her friend Christina Doty, 9, helped. | Carrie Napoleon/For Post-Tribune
Updated: October 15, 2013 6:40AM
GARY — The bright morning sun lit up the flag as Gary police officers and firefighters raised it to half staff to honor the victims of 9/11 on Wednesday morning.
Firefighters lined up with a fire engine parked along Broadway, while city officials and first responders gathered on the steps of City Hall to pay tribute — through prayer, music and speeches — on the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attack.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the commitment of first responders everywhere is not something to take for granted.
“This is a chance to say thank you,” Freeman-Wilson said. “You protect us from harm when we are sleeping. We say ‘thank you’ for the sacrifices you make every day.”
Gary Councilman Ron Brewer said the events of the day stay firmly in memory.
“As that beautiful morning rose, it brought destruction to homes, hearts and families,” Brewer said. “We watched police and firefighters go inside those buildings to save someone else and not come out.”
Fire Chief Teresa Everett said the day showed the qualities that makes America strong.
“It’s what we’re willing to do on a moment’s notice that makes our community safe,” Everett said.
The Wirt/Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy Choir capped the ceremony with “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”
— Christin Nance Lazerus, Post-Tribune staff writer
Minister recalls working at ground zero
VALPARAISO — Bones from a finger, still encased in a wedding band. The remains of a firefighter’s helmet, with pictures of his family tucked in the band.
Those were some of the heart-wrenching items the Rev. Bill Werde came across while assisting in a temporary morgue in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.
On the 12th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Werde, now director of admissions for Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, shared his experiences of that day, when he reached ground zero shortly after the first World Trade Center tower collapsed, and in the months that followed, during a Wednesday program at the First Responders Tribute Garden.
“Our theme was about the greater good,” he said to the 75 or so people who attended the commemoration, held as a giant U.S. flag, hanging from a fire department ladder truck, billowed in the breeze overhead.
Werde recalled the first responders who lined up to be blessed by him that morning, and who wrote their Social Security numbers on their arms in permanent marker so they could be identified if something happened.
A firefighter approached him after the second tower collapsed.
“He fell into my arms and said, ‘Father, I see nothing but bodies,’” Werde said, adding that firefighter and another tried to escape the second tower while dodging people jumping from the flaming building.
The firefighter’s buddy didn’t make it, hit by one of the jumpers.
“That day was so much about death, so much about terrorism,” Werde said.
Between his time at ground zero, at a respite center for rescuers, and at the morgue, Werde assisted with the attack’s aftermath for a full nine months.
Werde said he and everyone who assisted, who left the scene for medical treatment because of exposure to toxins and returned, who left their families behind, did it for the same reason, “to take the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, and make something good.”
— Amy Lavalley, Post-Tribune correspondent
Pastor urges prayer for today’s first responders
CROWN POINT — Community members gathered in the city Wednesday to pay tribute to those who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001, and to pray for the safety of first responders on the job today.
The Rev. Mark Wilkins, Crown Point police chaplain and pastor of First United Methodist Church, called on those who attended to look at the day as one of renewal. The church has hosted the annual event in conjunction with the city each year since the terrorist attacks.
“These acts shattered steel, but it cannot bend America’s resolve,” Wilkins said. “We remember what happened. Those memories … call us to renew ourselves, renew our community. It serves as a reminder of what it is about America that is truly great.”
After the ceremony, Wilkins said, participants usually drop a flower in a basket at the foot of the memorial. This year, he said, they were asked to take a card with a photo of a badge and badge number of a Crown Point police or fire department member and pray for that individual.
“That number represents somebody. Take that card and bring that card home and pray for that person. It will become our sacrifice,” Wilkins said.
Julie Schultz of Lowell said the ceremony always reminds her of her own family members, including her late father, who have served in the military.
“Every time we have this I think of him and what he went through to fight for our country,” Schultz said.
— Carrie Napoleon, Post-Tribune correspondent