PUNXSUTAWNEY — Even 11 years after the stirring events of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks played out on the television screens of Americans, the importance of remembering those events and those who responded so quickly to help in such a great time of need. Tuesday, on the 11th anniversary of the attacks, the Punxsutawney Fraternal Order of Eagles held a memorial service to remember those lost and to commemorate the first responders' brave efforts.
Bob Peace opened the event with a welcoming message, and those in attendance recited the Pledge of Allegiance to begin the service.
Peace stated that the Eagles have been holding the memorial in years past and added that the group chose to continue to do so, as "we must keep that memory alive."
Then, Peace invited the first of three guest speakers to come forward and address those in attendance — Punxsutawney Mayor James Wehrle.
Wehrle commented on the fact that Sept. 11, 2001, was a bit of a contradiction, calling it, "both a sad day and a proud day in our nation's history."
He said that while many lives were lost, the character of those first responders and those on Flight 93 who helped bring down another hijacked plane in western Pennsylvania made him "proud to be an American."
He concluded his talk by saying that he hopes, "we never forget" the events of that day.
After Wehrle's address, Jefferson County Commission Chairman Paul Corbin was invited to the podium for his remarks.
After thanking the Fraternal Order of Eagles for continuing the tradition of the remembrance service, Corbin said that remembrance services like Tuesday's help the nation heal and move on.
He added that his gratitude goes out to all the heroes of that day — and those who respond similarly every day — and he concluded by imploring the Eagles to continue the program in the future.
The final speaker for the evening was state Rep. Sam Smith, who reminded those in attendance that the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was a similar morning to the one they woke up to Tuesday — a bright, sunny and calm day. He said that quickly, the typical cares of the day, though, began to vanish as the events unfolded before us.
He related the three separate Sept. 11 attacks to three of the main factions of our society — with the attack on the World Trade Center towers representing an attack on the financial and big city aspects; the plane that crashed into the Pentagon representing an attack on our military strength and our government; and the third attack — one that he said "ironically" fell in a western Pennsylvania field after being taken over by brave passengers — representing a strike on the farming and agriculture that have been so central to our nation's growth.
"As things developed, we realized there are bad people out there," Smith said. "The thousands of innocents who were killed show that there are people out there who despise the freedoms we, as Americans, possess. The great strength of our country is that, despite our differences and disagreements, we have a way beyond killing to resolve our problems."
Smith went on to point out three different things that we should continue to remember, the first of which was the innocent lives that were lost.
He said that each year, the reading of the names of the victims is a reminder of each individual life that was lost, but also a reminder of exactly how many lives were lost in the attacks.
Secondly, he said the emergency responders should be remembered.
"They showed no concern for their own lives," he said. "Like those we have in our own hometowns, who we sort of expect to show up. We're lucky to have people who do show up every time we need them."
Finally, he said all should remember that the "true success of this country, compared to other nations, is rooted in the genius of our founding fathers and the Constitution they formed. We manage our challenges in a respectful and honorable way, and that is what makes us a country that succeeds."
After Smith concluded his comments, Peace returned to the podium to thank all the attendees, and he thanked both Jefferson County Commissioner Jeff Pisarcik and Jefferson County Sheriff Carl Gotwald for attending the memorial.
Punxsutawney Area High School student Douglas Bartlebaugh was also in attendance with his display of memorabilia related to Sept. 11, 2001. Bartlebaugh had spent the anniversary making presentations at the school.