Sept. 11 in Carmichaels began as it has for years — in town square, where borough residents gather to remember the terrorist attacks that took place 18 years ago this year.
The song “Proud to be an American,” rang loud throughout the quiet town square as first responders and residents assembled beneath red, white and blue flags. Mary Lewis of Carmichaels has coordinated this annual morning of remembrance since 2002.
“For me, this is very, very important that we never forget this,” Lewis said. “I hope whenever I’m gone, it continues.”
Before the ceremony, Lewis said her grandson passed out 100 flag pins to the policemen in attendance. The master of ceremonies at this year’s program was American Legion Post 400 Commander William Varesko.
At 8:46 a.m. the Carmichaels & Cumberland Township Fire Dept. sounded the truck sirens. At that time 18 years ago, the first hijacked plane crashed into the North Tower.
Then the borough prayed.
Rev. Keith Lawson led an invocation prayer immediately following the somber sirens.
Then attendees heard the words of veteran and retired judge Terry Grimes, the day’s guest speaker. Grimes spoke of the sacrifices first responders make and the pride they deserve. He noted how many first responders continued helping those trapped inside the Twin Towers, even though they knew they wouldn’t all make it out alive.
“That’s the spirit of first responders. That’s the spirit of Americans,” Grimes said. “To do what we can to help others.”
Lewis noted she couldn’t coordinate this event without help. She said the American Legion has given her so much support throughout the years and she receives help from family and community members, too. Each year Matthew Bargerstock donates his time and sound equipment.
Throughout the program, bands from Carmichaels Area High School and the American Legion performed.
Lewis’ granddaughter, Payton Armstrong, sings the national anthem during the annual ceremony. Payton’s sister led the anthem each year until leaving for college three years ago. Payton has been singing it since and this year was no different.
Joby Pratt, another grandchild of Lewis, released red, white, blue and black balloons following the national anthem, and afterwards, Craig Baily, of Carmichaels and Cumberland Township Volunteer Fire Dept., led guests in another prayer.
Mike Riggen, also from the department, conducted the ringing of the bells, which he said is a tradition over 200 years old. It pays homage to firefighters who died in the line of duty. The bells sounded 25 times, which Riggen said when multiplied by 5, equates roughly to how many first responders died during 9/11.
“(The bells) reflect honor,” Riggen said. “Devotion these brave souls had for their duty.”
Cumberland Township Police Chief Bryan Smith said a policemen’s prayer after the bells sounded.
The morning of remembrance closed with a prayer by Rev. Dayton Mix and a 21-gun salute by the American Legion Post 400 and the VFW Post 3491.
“That day was the very definition of terror, the very definition of evil,” Mix said. “Help us to remember the lessons of that day and this.”
After the ceremony, Lewis continued her tradition of treating the veterans and policemen in attendance to lunch.
Annie Thomas of Carmichaels attends the ceremony each year. As guests left the square, “Proud to be an American” played once more. She looked to the speakers and said that is how she was feeling.
“Everybody should be,” she said.