Toronto looks back at Sept. 11 event

TORONTO – A hardy band of city residents surrounded the city gazebo commons Wednesday for a candlelight vigil marking the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that occurred Sept. 11, 2001.

Vowing to never forget, speakers mourned the victims while lauding the heroes of that day during the service, co-sponsored by the Toronto American Legion Post 86 and co-organized by city resident Susan Kulstad.

David Rhodes, 1st vice commander at the Toronto Legion, acted as master of ceremonies. He began by telling those gathered that first responders are the warriors of the community.

“This is your day,” he told emergency personnel gathered. “In my book, it should be made into a law. You are our soldiers, and we sure thank you. We know what you have to go through.”

Rhodes continued by thanking Kulstad for organizing the event.

Kulstad vowed that “the community of Toronto will never forget.”

The invocation was presented by the Rev. John Kapitan, pastor of the St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church, after which Tom Graham, Jefferson County commissioner, sang the national anthem.

John Parker, city safety director, welcomed those gathered and reminded them what they were there for.

“Our first task is to remember the fallen as they were,” said Parker. “To the friends and family of the fallen, we give our deepest sympathies.”

Beth Rupert-Warren then sang “Amazing Grace,” followed by more words from Parker. “Sept. 11, 2001, forever changed our world,” he said, adding the nation was attacked by people who served under no flag. He said no one in the World Trade Centers, in the planes that were hijacked or anyone in the Pentagon personally had done wrong to those who murdered them.

“Today we pay tribute and honor (the victims),” he continued, adding Osama Bin Laden was killed and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. “You will never be forgotten. No single event can destroy who we are. Our American spirit is defined in the ability to move on after a time of loss.”

Parker also said no monument could replace those lost, and victims should be remembered “until a reunion in heaven.”

Rich Coburn then sang “Have You Forgotten,” after which Graham told the gathering he was “so proud to be from Toronto,” and lauded event organizers.

“We haven’t forgotten what happened that day,” Graham continued. “Most of us knew exactly where we were that day (when the attacks occurred). They hate what we stand for.”

Graham said he marveled at first responders who rushed toward the Twin Towers in an attempt to save lives.

“Those people believed in something bigger than themselves,” he said, adding first responders were “warriors who do whatever their country asks of them, even their lives if need be. We will win because we are right.”

Graham then sang “God Bless the U.S.A.,” before Clark Crago, chief of operations of the TEMS Joint Ambulance District, took the podium.

“More than 90 countries lost citizens that day,” said Crago, who also counted among the dead first responders, including fire, police, medical personnel and civilians. He said first responders do their jobs because “We like to help people, even if it takes our lives.”

Crago then announced by category those killed followed by the ringing of a bell in their honor. He added there were plenty of civilians who also were heroes that day.

Gray Nagy of the Steubenville Fire Department told those gathered that although the attacks took their toll, the country had to move onward.

“I don’t presume to speak for those who lost their lives,” said Nagy, adding he had empathy toward first responders who left home that day never thinking it would be their last. “We should laugh, love and live after that disaster, and by doing that you’re giving us the best tribute you could.”

Nagy also told a story of how he and a friend were compelled to visit Ground Zero in New York City on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and everything that could go wrong, did, until they met a retired New York City firefighter named Jimmy Butler, who took the pair to sections of Ground Zero the public doesn’t see.

“We spent a lot of time that day talking to firemen, many of whom were on duty that day,” said Nagy, adding it was an emotional moment. “It was a beautiful, beautiful day.”

Nagy also said there were “Joe average people just like you who stepped up and did heroic things that day.”

He ended by asking those gathered to forget labels and “bind together as a community.”

The ceremony continued with the benediction followed by Coburn singing “Angels Among Us” and the lighting of candles. A 21-gun salute was performed by the Toronto American Legion Honor Guard followed by taps to conclude the service.