Around 20 people met in front of the Benton County Courthouse at noon Wednesday to wave American flags and hold up signs with a single hand-drawn message: 9/11.

Corvallis resident Carolyn Webb said she began planning the remembrance event early last week after seeing advance notice for Albany’s ceremony commemorating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the newspaper. She said she made calls to see if the Fire Department or any agency in the city was doing any kind of commemoration event for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and couldn’t find anything planned.

“I just wanted to remember not just the 3,000 people that are gone but all those heroes, firefighters, police and ordinary businesspeople who helped each other,” she said.

She said the event was organized as a nonpartisan way of honoring first responders.

“They are here to protect us. It’s important to remember and respect the people who are here to protect us,” she said.

Webb said she emailed people she knew to invite them, made calls, extended invitations in person and put out calls for people to join her on social media.

“It was purely grassroots,” she said.

She brought American flags and handmade signs for attendees.

“Maybe it will even inspire the city to do something next year,” she said.

Among the crowd were two people who witnessed the aftermath of the 2001 attacks firsthand.

Rachel Peck, of Corvallis, said she worked in a civilian office building a few miles from the Pentagon. A manager in the building saw the impact when the hijacked plane struck the Pentagon and told others there about it, and she walked to an conference room where she could see the Pentagon burning. She said even felt her building shake with a secondary explosion at the impact site and was evacuated.

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She said the experience taught her firsthand that there is real evil in the world — but she also appreciated the solidarity she saw in the community after the attacks.

“I think it is important to remember the lives that were lost and the heavy impact on so many,” she said.

Deborah Wolf, of Corvallis, said she was living in Manhattan at the time. She recalled walking outside and seeing people staring in the direction of the World Trade Center. Then she looked and saw the aftermath of the first tower smoking after it had been struck by a plane.

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“I thought ‘Oh, my God, that’s an accident.’ When I saw the second plane hit, I thought ‘We’re at war, but with whom?’” she said.

The moment was one of shock.

Hours later, she saw people covered in ash, evacuating from near the attack site. Wolf, who moved to Corvallis three year ago, said she also saw a lot of acts of caring: a shoe store owner giving evacuees shoes and people carrying each other to safety.

“There was quite a tenderness about the city," she said. "It was an extraordinary trauma, but it caught people up in counting what their blessings were.”

Wolf said she came to the remembrance as a way to honor first responders.

“I’m here because I want the people who were affected long term to be helped,” she said.

Albany's American Legion chapter organized a 9/11 memorial ceremony Wednesday morning that drew about 350 people to the Linn County Courthouse and featured speakers talking about the day's impact.

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Anthony Rimel covers education and crime in Benton County and weekend events across the Mid-Valley. He can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net or 541-812-6091.