A giant American flag waving in the cool breeze was held high by ladder trucks from the Albany, Lebanon and Sweet Home fire departments Tuesday morning, as hundreds of mid-valley residents remembered the nearly 3,000 lives lost when al-Qaida terrorists flew two jets into the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

On the same day, American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 battled terrorists until their plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

At 8:46 a.m. Tuesday, David Solomon, commander of the American Legion Post 10, asked for a moment of silence to commemorate the time when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower at the World Trade Center. A second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, struck the south tower at 9:03 a.m.

And life in the United States — and for much of the entire world — has not been the same since.

A New York City native, Solomon was a first responder with an ambulance service when the attack occurred. He lost co-workers that day and has continued to lose friends whose health has been affected by the toxic chemicals that permeated the air that day and during the clean-up afterward, which took months.

“Today, we remember those we lost and those who are still dying due to medical conditions caused by breathing asbestos, benzene and jet fuel,” he said.

In all, 2,996 persons were killed and 6,000 were wounded. Victims represented more than 90 countries around the world.

Solomon said first responders — firefighters, police officers and ambulance crews — were all affected. Of 412 first responders killed on 9/11, 343 of those were firefighters. Since then, more than 1,140 people have been diagnosed with cancer and more than 1,400 first responders have died.

“They were rushing into the building when everyone else was rushing out,” he said. “They were doing their jobs, but it’s more than a job. It’s who they are.”

Solomon said it was a “bright, sunny morning” and then “all chaos broke through.”

Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa asked the crowd to think about how old they were on 9/11 and where they were that morning.

She said a recent car wreck in which she and her husband were injured gave her perspective about people in pain and the value of first responders.

“I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had much pain in my life until this accident,” she said.

She and her husband were treated quickly and professionally by area first responders, and it gave her a new perspective about people injured in disasters. She noted that some 9/11 victims were trapped for days before first responders could get to them.

“We are so blessed to have our public safety crews so close and that they respond so quickly,” she said.

Tom Harris, department commander for the American Legion, praised first responders for their “fearless and selfless efforts to save as many people as possible” during 9/11 and every day.

Linn County Sheriff Jim Yon said the events of 9/11 were part of an especially hard week for those in the mid-valley.

On Sept. 4, his friend Jason Hoerauf was riding along with Oregon State Police Sgt. John Burright when they stopped on Interstate 5 to help a motorist. OSP Senior Trooper Maria Mignano also stopped to assist. They were struck by a vehicle driven by a 19-year-old man who had fallen asleep. Mignano and Hoerrauf were killed. Burright suffered permanent, disabling injuries.

“Jason was my friend. We played in several golf tournaments together,” Yon said. “John is my wife’s cousin. Our lives were turned upside-down.”

Yon praised the resiliency of Linn County residents for making it through that rough time.

Yon said he had just gotten off the night shift as a new corporal and when he arrived home, saw the carnage in New York on the television and like the rest of America, was in disbelief this was occurring in the United States.

“When I became sheriff three months ago, I challenged the staff to make a difference in someone’s life every day,” Yon said. “It doesn’t have to be something big. It might just be opening the door for someone. It’s the right thing to do. It makes lives better to help someone, somehow. I challenge all of you to do the same.”

Stacey DeLepierrre and her husband were going to celebrate their first anniversary on Sept. 9, 2001, but her husband was working in Boston at the time.

So DeLepierre flew to the East Coast and celebrated in Boston, although she had hoped to visit New York City on Sept. 10.

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On Sept. 11, DeLepierre was on an airplane waiting to take off from an airport in Kentucky when the pilot announced over the radio that there had been an attack and that all airplanes had been grounded.

Passengers were instructed to get off the plane and leave the airport.

DeLepierre said that at first, passengers were told they could not even taken their luggage with them, but that order was later rescinded.

Since there was no way to get back on an airplane, DeLepierre called her brother, who was living in Louisville, and he came to pick her up at the airport.

“I was in the airport seven hours,” DeLepierre. “We really didn’t talk, everyone was stunned.”

DeLepierre said it took three days before she could get a flight back to Portland.

Solomon was joined at the podium by Steve Adams, American Legion deputy vice-commander. As they read aloud the names of some of those who died on 9/11, wreaths were laid in honor of police officers, firefighters, emergency services staff, veterans and civilians.

The wreaths were made by Twila Weder of Expressions in Bloom.

The All Nations American Color Guard presented and retrieved the colors; a 21-gun salute was given by the Post 10 Honor Guard.

Music was provided by Tami Schult directing the Harmonix Choir from Jefferson High School, Praise in 3D (the Dominy family) and the Willamette Valley Public Safety Pipe Band.

Post 10 Chaplain Floyd Bacon gave the invocation and benediction.

Following the ceremony, brunch was served at American Legion Post 10.

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.