Portland ceremony honors heroes, victims on 21st anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks

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Sep. 11—Leaders of Portland's first responders held a somber ceremony Sunday at Fort Allen Park to mark the 21st anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Portland Fire Chief Keith Gautreau began by sharing three numbers: 343, 23 and 37. The number of New York City firefighters, police officers and Port Authority officers who lost their lives that day.

"These brave people, these heroes, responded immediately without hesitation to save as many lives as possible," Gautreau said. "They ran toward the problem, not away, because it's their duty."

As he spoke near the city's 9/11 memorial, flags were planted on the ground representing the firefighters and police officers killed.

In all, nearly 3,000 people died in the terrorist attacks.

There is an uneasy connection linking Sept. 11 and Maine, Gautreau said, noting that some of the terrorists went through the Portland Jetport before hijacking the planes that struck New York and Washington, D.C. and crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

Not everyone is old enough to remember that day, Gautreau said, "but every year we gather here at this very site where this memorial sits."

Gautreau asked everyone, "especially my fellow first responders here today and across the country, let us put our political and social differences aside for at least one day to honor and keep our promise to never forget."

At 8:46 a.m., the time when the terrorists first attacked, a moment of silence was held before Gautreau and Police Chief F. Heath Gorham placed wreaths at the memorial.

This day means something different to everyone, Gorham said.

"For my part, I remember being a rookie policeman watching the attacks unfold from my tiny apartment in South Portland, and then being called into work as our leaders struggled to figure out who, or what, would be hit next," he said.

In the days and months that followed, Gorham said he felt immense pride to be part of a profession of men and women willing to sacrifice so much for others. Today, many of those people continue to suffer from hardships created by Sept. 11.

"It is important that we remember and we honor all those still struggling with the physical and emotional impacts of these attacks," he said.

Portland's Dan Haley was among the residents who attended the ceremony.

He recalled the fear of not knowing where his daughter was.

"My daughter was in the air coming back from Uganda," Haley said. "She was in public health over there for research."

He found out later that her flight to New York City had been diverted to Belgium.

"I spent all the day trying to find out where she was," Haley said. "It wasn't until 3:30 we knew where she was. It was a tense day."