ALACHUA ‒ On Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 all across America, people came together in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Certain events are of such a magnitude that they affect the consciousness of an entire population and live on in memories. This past Saturday, communities remembered the 9/11 attacks and honored those lost in the attacks and those lost and injured seeking to rescue victims. Locally, remembrance events included those in Alachua, High Springs and Gainesville where people recalled the events of that infamous day.

Tragic Events Unfolded

On that morning, four commercial airliners traveling from the northeastern U.S. to California were hijacked mid-flight by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. The hijackers were organized into three groups of five hijackers and one group of four. Each group had one hijacker who had received flight training and took over control of the aircraft. Their goal was to crash each plane into a prominent American building, causing mass casualties and destruction of the targeted buildings.

The first plane to hit its target was American Airlines flight 11. It was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan at 8:46 a.m. At 9:03 a.m., the World Trade Center's South Tower was hit by United Airlines flight 175. Both 110-story towers collapsed within an hour and forty-two minutes, leading to the collapse of the other World Trade Center structures and significantly damaging surrounding buildings.

A third flight, American Airlines flight 77, crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., causing a partial collapse of the building's side. The fourth, and final flight, United Airlines flight 93 was flown in the direction of Washington D.C. The plane's passengers had heard the news of the other planes’ fate and attempted to regain control of the aircraft away from the hijackers. They succeeded in diverting the flight from its intended target but it crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. Investigators determined that Flight 93's target was either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

The attacks stunned the nation, with 2,977 killed and over 25,000 injured. Many first responders died in the attack trying to rescue those trapped in the burning towers—343 firefighters and 72 police officers were killed when the towers collapsed. It was the first foreign attack on U.S. soil since 1814. Many of the survivors still suffer long-term health problems from the debris of the tower collapse and the subsequent rescue attempts and clean up.

The attacks led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in an attempt to destroy the terrorist network, which resulted in the two longest wars in American history. The attack and its aftermath still haunt the nation. Every year the day is set aside to remember those who died, especially the brave first responders that gave their lives trying to save others and the heroic efforts of the passengers on Flight 93 who gave their lives to stop the hijackers. This year marked the 20th anniversary of the attack and towns across America held ceremonies and memorials to honor all those who died.

Local Remembrance Ceremonies

The High Springs Fire Department and memorial organizer Leda Carrero worked in partnership with the High Springs Police Department and Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe to host a 20th anniversary memorial event in remembrance of the attacks. The event was held on the steps of the High Springs Fire Department with both High Springs fire and police on hand to honor their fallen fellow responders as well as citizens who gathered to honor all the casualties.

On Saturday, Sept. 11 at 8 a.m. the ceremony began. Those in attendance were asked to share their memories of that fateful day and half a dozen told their stories, still clear in their memory after 20 years. At 8:46 a.m., the exact time the first plane hit, bagpiper Ben Mowry played Amazing Grace in memory of those lost. The fire truck blew three long horn blasts and then a long moment of silent prayer. Several city officials and Chief of Police Antione Sheppard spoke. A wreath donated by Thompson's Flower shop decorated the stone memorial in honor of the 9/11 victims. High Springs K-9 officer and police dog Ceasar paid tribute to a plaque honoring service dogs that worked at the Trade Center wreckage looking for survivors and served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Trumpeter Vito Montauk played taps and vocalist Dani Mackinzie sang God Bless America as the ceremony ended.

In Alachua, a ceremony was held in front of City Hall with the flags at half-mast. City Manager Mike DaRoza opened the ceremony followed by remarks from Alachua County Fire Rescue officials who described the efforts and bravery of the firemen who rushed into the burning towers only thinking of saving others. Also offering remarks were Alachua Police Chief Chad Scott and Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr. Watson discussed the unity of purpose in the country after the attack and called upon the audience to remember that unity in these divisive times and strive to return to that united country. After each speaker, a silver bell was struck three times in memory of the first responders who died that day.

Other members of Alachua Fire Rescue gathered at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida. Their goal was to ascend the stadium steps 11 times in full gear to emulate the height that the firefighters had to climb in the burning towers trying to rescue the victims of the attack. Several hundred people joined them at the stadium in tribute for the annual event.

In the evening, the Alachua Military Support Group gathered at the High Springs Brewery in tribute to the soldiers who went on to fight the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, where over 2,372 paid the supreme price. All over America communities held events in memorial to that horrible day 20 years ago—a day that changed the world.

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