Sara Haghdoosti and her son presented hand-crafted thank you cards to Evanston’s first responders. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

More than 100 people gathered Saturday morning for a 9/11 memorial ceremony held by the Evanston Fire and Police Departments to honor the brave men and women who lost their lives 20 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001.

Many of those who attended the service, held at Fireman’s Park, said they remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of the terror attacks in New York City. Some who attended the ceremony were too young to have personal memories of the day; others were not yet born. They all came to express their gratitude for the first responders who ran toward danger instead of away from it – 343 firefighters died trying to save the lives of people they did not know.

Before the service, Pastor Monte’ Dillard spoke with the RoundTable.

“I am glad to be of service as one of two chaplains for the Evanston Fire Department… I always recall where I was when I heard that the first plane had hit the [north] Tower – working my drive-up lane at Bank Calumet. I worked for a bank. Just remembering the impact that had. Our Bible study was filled over capacity that night. And, in the 20 years since, it has never sunk too low in my memory,” said Pastor Dillard, who is also Senior Pastor at First Church of God, 1524 Simpson St.

Evanston resident Sara Haghdoosti attended the ceremony with her young son, for whom the date is history, rather than a memory. Like Pastor Dillard, they were at Fireman’s Park before 7:30 a.m., greeting Evanston’s first responders.

“We came to say thank you to the firefighters and first responders who take care of our community,” said Haghdoosti.

The service began with the posting of colors by the Evanston Fire and Police Department Honor Guard and bagpiper Brian Crabby, followed by the National Anthem, sung by Bella Chiocca.

Evanston Fire Chief Paul Polep thanked vocalist Chiocca and acknowledged all who attended the ceremony. He thanked police, fire, and military personnel, and the many Evanston residents and distinguished guests who were present, including Mayor Daniel Biss, City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza and Council members.

Chief Polep introduced Pastor Dillard and Chaplain Rodney Greene for the invocation and reflection portion of the program.

“As we have all gathered here, 20 years after Sept. 11, let us always remain appreciative and remember those who selflessly gave their lives, while also being thankful for those, many of whom stand here with us, who are prepared to do it today, if necessary,” Pastor Dillard said in his reflection.

Evanston Police Department Chaplain Rodney Greene quoted a firefighter who was at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers fell.

“’If we have learned nothing else from this tragedy, we learned that life is short, and there is no time for hate,’” said Chaplain Greene, continuing in his own words, “What this world needs… is nothing more than love for one another as we understand the differences that we have, and work things out – as a unit, as a tribe, as a family.”

Mayor Daniel Biss presented thoughts of honor and remembrance. (Photo by Evan Girard)

In his remarks, Mayor Biss thanked all those who attended the ceremony “for giving your time this morning to think with us about what occurred exactly 20 years ago, at this minute, and about what we learned throughout the subsequent 20 years.”

Mayor Biss spoke at 7:45 a.m., which is 8:45 a.m. in New York. At that moment two decades ago, a plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Below is an excerpt from the mayor’s tribute to the 9/11 first responders.

“Those of us who are at an age to remember… will never forget what that day felt like… We all felt confusion, fear and uncertainty… That panic gave way to an incredible solidarity… prompted… in part by the example that was shown to us by our first responders…

“We saw on that terrifying Tuesday morning innumerable first responders rush into that inferno, while the rest of us were just trying to figure out what was going on. Yes, many did give their lives. Many, many others were severely harmed. And many, many, many others exposed themselves to incalculable, incomprehensible risk – just because that’s what they do.

“We saw that, and we learned… about the bond that connects all of us, and the responsibility that we all have to one another. We owe an incredible debt of gratitude to those who took that step that day, who gave that ultimate sacrifice that day, who in that moment of panic and confusion did everything they could, irrespective of the consequences, to keep us safe…

“I would ask all of us not only to say, ‘thank you’ and then go home again, but instead to remind ourselves of what that tells us about our duty to one another – about our role in this unified human fabric, about what we must, ourselves, do to hold that fabric together. And to sometimes make sacrifices to protect those who we love, those who live around us, and those we may not even know.”

Bell ceremony and taps by EFD and EPD Honor Guard/Murray Gordon. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

Interim Chief of Police Aretha Barnes remembered America’s fallen heroes and those who carry on their legacy.

“We come together in remembrance as we mark two decades of tribute to the countless fallen, those who made the ultimate sacrifice – police officers, firefighters, military personnel and civilians. Loved ones left behind to carry the torch and keep the flame alive. I often hear people say they recall exactly what they were doing when they received the news on that fateful day, Sept. 11, 2001. Our lives are changed forever and will never be the same. We must never forget,” said Chief Barnes.

Chief Barnes invited 9/11 survivor and former Evanston resident Mark Shore to share his memories and thoughts about the day. Mr. Shore, who is an ETHS alumnus, worked in the south tower of the World Trade Center in the offices of Morgan Stanley.

“When I came out [of the south tower]… I saw both towers on fire, not knowing that there was a second plane… Being on the streets of New York at that time was very surreal…. There were lots of rumors as to what was going on…,” Shore said.

After eventually making his way to a Morgan Stanley office in midtown Manhattan, Shore was able to communicate with his family. He waited three hours for the ferry that took him to his home at the time in Hoboken, New Jersey. All other modes of transport had been locked down.

“Part of this is to think about what has happened since then… Since 2011, I have been a professor at DePaul University. When I first started teaching there, the students were old enough to remember 9/11. Now the students, particularly the undergrad, weren’t even born. It’s history to them…”

Evanston firefighters take down the flag after the 9/11 ceremony. (Photo by Evan Girard)

Evanston Fire Chief Polep gave closing remarks.

“Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on our country. I wouldn’t call this a special day because there’s nothing special about being attacked. But it is a day we must never forget… A day where millions of Americans’ lives changed… We shall never forget the firefighters, police officers, port authority, military personnel and civilians that gave their lives to save many others, in the midst of chaos,” said Chief Polep.

He stressed that the most important thing about remembering the day was “how our country came together to assist those in need. How people put others first, and themselves second, because it’s the right thing to do…

“Today is absolutely a day we should never forget our fallen and the sacrifices of so many. But also realize, it should not take a day of horrific events to come together to make things better… As we gather to honor those who gave so much on Sept. 11, 2001… let’s honor the many that have sacrificed over the 245 years of America’s existence – giving us rights and freedoms many others don’t have – by leading, building and setting examples of what right looks like. We can do this, but we have to do this together…

“We will never forget the tragedy… but we will always remember how this country came together as one, standing strong,” Chief Polep said in closing.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.