Gorgas Park vigil sparks memories of 9/11 – a day ‘you can never forget’

As day faded into night on Tuesday, the extended Roxborough community gathered to remember and pay tribute to the victims of 9/11.

In Roxborough’s Gorgas Park, members of the 21st Ward Veterans Association brought together members of the Philadelphia Fire Department, Philadelphia Police Department, local clergy and active-duty military personnel on a clear September day that many observed was remarkably similar to that tragic day in 2001.

Here are some excerpts from the speeches at Tuesday night’s event. 

Bruce Hoffman, USN 1971-1975, event organizer and president of 21st Ward Veterans Association

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What a difference a day makes. September 10, 2001 – I list it as the ‘last good day’ in America. The economy was good, people felt safe, and life was normal. September 11, 2001 – a day much like today. The weather was perfect, skies were blue, and the world changed– not just the United States, but the world.

We learned for the first time that we were not safe in our country.

But there were positive things about 9/11. We experienced for the first time in a long time … that we were truly a United States; everyone pulled together. Gorgas Park had never had a larger crowd than the night our community participated in our first candlelight prayer vigil [two nights later on September 13].During that night, people extended down these steps …to Hermitage Street; it was the biggest crowd I can remember seeing. We embraced each other; we supported each other; we were united. We prayed together as a community; we prayed to God for comfort.

And he delivered.

Spc. Sarah Bianco, 369 Engineer Detachment and Roxborough native

I was eleven years old when it happened in my sixth grade classroom at St. Mary of the Assumption. I remember looking up at the TV screen and my teacher sitting there making us watch it.

That day really affected me, being eleven years old.

From that day on, I made a promise to myself and to my father that in my mother’s [an Air Force vet] memory I would go on to serve our country. At 18 I graduated from Roxborough High School, and I left the next day and went into the Army to be a firefighter.

I don’t regret any of it.

Deputy Chief Joe Mack, Philadelphia Fire Department, who was deployed to Ground Zero on 9/11 with the Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.

I have to speak to you as a veteran myself, but also as a person who had gone to New York when the original attacks had occurred. To me, this is very awe inspiring, and I feel honored and inspired to be here.

Lt. Stanley Ratay, Ladder 30, Philadelphia Fire Department

That day was a tragedy for everyone. I can’t imagine what the families of all the firefighters, police officers, and civilians in those buildings went through and have been going through for the last eleven years.

This country is a free country, and I can’t understand how people could hate us. I don’t think it’s really hate; I think it’s jealousy – it’s what we have that they want.

Even though they attacked our country that day, everyone is welcome in the United States. We should always remember that, and keep our doors open.

Rev. Bill Hartman, Andorra Baptist Church

I’m sure every time we come to this day, people say, “Do you remember where you were on 9/11?” I’m sure that none of you have forgotten where you were as you witnessed that horrific event.

As you close your eyes now, remember that day as we pray.

Karen Sears and Linda Marie Bell, Roxborough residents who spoke at the vigil on Tuesday, asked why it’s important to keep 9/11 in our memory.

Sears: Like the Alamo, you can never forget. You have to remember the bad things that happen so hopefully you can prevent them in the future. We learn from our mistakes.

Bell: History repeats if we don’t.

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