A crowd gathered on the Linn County Courthouse lawn on Monday morning to remember the nearly 3,000 people who were killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the 6,000 wounded and others affected in the aftermath.
But local leaders also reminded the audience that the attacks brought a resilient United States together, and they called for renewed unity in what seems at times like a fractured country today.
From Albany, Oregon, to Albany, New York, there was a sense of patriotism and duty in the wake of 9/11, as firefighters and other volunteers from across the country came to Ground Zero to help. Others contributed funds or helped raise resources.
“We must forever remember the goodness it brought out of thousands of people,” said Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley.
“That’s who we are. That’s who we should be,” he later added.
This week, the United States has new reasons to unite, such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, as well as to a lesser extent, wildfires here in Oregon.
“People like you and I have been ripped from their homes, have lost everything they own, have lost their loved ones,” Riley said.
Petty differences seem to melt away in the face of disasters, but Riley wondered why it takes a tragedy to bring Americans together.
“Do I wish we would unite in the good times like we do in the bad? Yes, I do,” he said.
Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa asked the crowd to bring love and compassion to all mankind, and commended the few hundred people who showed up for the memorial. “This has been 16 years now and we still get a great turnout in our community,” she said.
The sacrifice and bravery of firefighters and policemen who rushed to the scenes of the attacks was noted several times during the memorial. Konopa made sure to thank local public safety workers and volunteers from numerous agencies who attended.
“They are here daily protecting us,” Konopa said.
David Solomon vice commander of American Legion Post 10 in Albany, also spoke. Solomon was a paramedic with the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and responded to the scene after airliners hit the World Trade Center towers.
“I was a rescuer there and it was hard and it hurts,” Solomon said. People, some of them on fire, some not, were jumping from burning buildings to their deaths.
One of his medic students, teenager Richard Pearlman, went into the Twin Towers three times to help people, despite Solomon’s warnings that he should get out of the area.
“He said he had to help people. Richie went into the building three times. The third time, the building came down on him. … He perished,” Solomon said.
Friends that he worked next to are dying of lung cancer from exposure to airborne particles released as the buildings collapsed. Others, such as Solomon himself, have respiratory issues or other health problems.
He also touched on the feelings of unity that the attacks created, with feuding neighbors banding together with a sense of purpose for the greater good.
“I wish that would stay all these years, and unfortunately, it doesn’t,” Solomon said.