Never Forget: Carmichaels holds annual 9/11 remembrance program

Joby Pratt walks across the Carmichaels town square with balloons he released during the Carmichaels Borough 9/11 remembrance ceremony on Sept. 11 2019, 18 years after the terrorist attacks. (Photo by Samantha Karam)

Sept. 11 began as it always does in Carmichaels, with road closures leading to the town square at 8:30 a.m. Each year the borough gathers there to remember the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001.

The song “Proud to be an American,” rang loud throughout the quiet town square as first responders and residents gathered beneath red white and blue flags. Mary Lewis of Carmichaels has coordinated this annual morning of remembrance since 2002. She said she always takes the veterans and policemen in attendance out to lunch afterwards.

“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 first responders 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.

The Rev. Keith Lawson led an invocation prayer immediately following the somber sirens.

Following the invocation, 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 on that fateful day, 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 support throughout the years and she receives help from family and community members, too. Each year Matthew Bargerstock donates his time and sound equipment.

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.

After the balloons floated through the air and landed in telephone wires above, Craig Baily, of Carmichaels and Cumberland Township Volunteer Fire Dept., led guests in another prayer.

Then 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,) symbols that 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. Throughout the program bands from Carmichaels Area High School and the American Legion performed.

The morning of remembrance closed with a prayer by the 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.”

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.

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