ELDERSVILLE, Pa. - Despite the threat of thunderstorms, several dozen people still gathered for Eldersville's annual memorial for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The memorial was moved to the White Church, and several of the speakers were visibly moved as they spoke about those who lost their lives, often while doing acts of heroism.
Coordinator Diane Huggins spoke about the importance of remembering the attacks, not only to honor those who lost their lives, but to give comfort to the loved ones they left behind.
REMEMBERING — Diane Huggins, Eldersville Sept. 11, 2001, memorial service coordinator, spoke about terrorist attack victims Peter Brennan of the New York Fire Department and Nicole C. Miller, a Flight 93 passenger. The service was held Wednesday in Eldersville’s White Church. It is sponsored by the Jefferson Township Historical Society. -- Summer Wallace-Minger
"It's important to them that their loved ones be remembered," she said.
World Trade Center victim Richard Palazzolo's mother asked that his favorite song, "Let It Be," by the Beatles be played. Huggins did so, and passed around a photograph of Palazzolo.
"This is very important to her," said Huggins. "She said she will be here with us in spirit. She appreciates this so much."
Huggins displayed a photograph of John Napolitano at Napolitano's father's request, noting he is frequently photographed holding his son's photo aloft.
The Rev. Tom Derby, minister of the Colliers Way Church of Christ, gave the opening prayer.
"Many people are still hurting, 12 years later," he said. "Each of us lost a little piece of ourselves that day."
Derby prayed for the families of the victims and for the country's enemies to be filled with understanding and peaceful intentions.
Huggins spoke about two of those who died in the attacks, Peter Brennan, 30, of the New York City Fire Department, who died rescuing victims from the World Trade Center; and Nicole C. Miller, 21, of San Jose, Calif., who died at Shanksville, Pa., on Flight 93.
Brennan was described as humorous, personable, a prankster and amateur photographer. He was a husband and father and was awaiting the birth of his second child, a son, when he was killed. Brennan began working for the FDNY in 1995 and had been named a Firefighter of the Year and awarded a medal of valor for rescuing three fellow firefighters. He was a technical rescue instructor at the fire academy and, at the time of his death, he was studying for a firefighting science degree.
"To say Peter loved firefighting was a gross understatement," said Huggins.
Miller spent her entire life in San Jose, where she was a stand-out athlete at Pioneer High School, a member of the championship swimming and diving team and earning a softball scholarship. She loved to hike, horseback ride and jog and was described as having a "smile that lit up the entire room."
Miller's love for people was such that "it would be natural for her to give up her life to save others, and that was what she did, bravely and heroically."
Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober was the guest speaker, and he described the initial confusion, followed by dawning awareness that the country was under attack before recounting the number of those lost - those on the ill-fated flights, those lost at Shanksville, Pa., the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and those law enforcement officers and first responders who died trying to save others.
"Remember those who left for work or packed for their flights, not knowing it was for the last time," he said.
Shober spoke about the importance and necessity of first responders and urged those attending to thank them for their service.
"On Flight 93, they knew they would not be able to land safely," he said. "They knew they were going to die. A passenger told his wife (over the phone), 'I know we're going to die, but three of us are going to do something about it (the hijacking).'"
He asked those in attendance to remember the victims' loved ones who "share the hero status while continuing on without their loved ones."
The terrorist attacks should be a reminder not to take life for granted and to always take the opportunity to express love for others and do whatever possible kindnesses, said Shober.
"What happened on Sept. 11, 2001, must stay in our minds forever," he said.
Dave Stiffler of the Eldersville Volunteer Fire Department spoke briefly.
"We all remember that day," he said. "My youngest was in kindergarten, and she's a senior now at Burgettstown (High School). I remember talking to them (his children) about it. It's in their history books now at school."
The fire department sounded the fire alarm - "a firefighter's last call" - in honor of those lost, and the department displayed a ladder with a broken top rung to symbolize the firefighters who died in the line of duty.
A flag from the World Trade Center was displayed in honor of Firefighter Greg Saucedo of the FDNY, who was killed as a result of the attacks. The flag was donated to the Eldersville memorial service by Mark Macari, Saucedo's cousin.
The audience recognized and applauded the police, first responders, military and veterans attending the ceremony.
Huggins spoke briefly about Connie Daniels, who pieced the Sept. 11, 2001, memorial quilts. The largest quilt, that which will be on display at the Ground Zero memorial, included three panels and was 60 feet in width. Daniels died early in August.
"Her legacy lives on in the memorial quilt," said Huggins.
John Radakovich of the Jefferson Township Historical Society spoke about the society's project to renovate the historic White Church, for which the group has received a $78,000 grant and must raise $20,000 in matching funds. As the service project in honor of the terrorist attack victims, those attending were asked to make a donation to the society.
Emma Gragan sang "God Bless America" and "Look to the Rainbow" and led those in attendance in singing "America the Beautiful."
Barb Zianni read the poem "Nation of Survivors," and Peggy Strain read the poem "The Day My Lady Cried."
The Rev. Jim Sands of Eldersville United Methodist Church gave the closing prayer.
"We remember the confusion, chaos and sadness of the day that, each year, seems to slip farther and farther into the past and history books," said Sands. "We pray that you help us remember that it is still touching the lives of so many people today."
The memorial was closed with those attending singing "Amazing Grace" by candlelight.
Following the service, the historical society hosted a community social.
The memorial is sponsored by the historical society.
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)