CLEARFIELD – While the American people experienced something unthinkable when evil struck Sept. 11, 2001, yesterday was more inevitable, as Clearfield community members gathered for a time of remembrance on the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks.
During the commemorative events, county dignitaries, service men and women and ordinary people remembered that day 10 years ago, while they paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives, including 2,753 at the World Trade Center, 184 at the Pentagon and 40 in Shanksville.
Robert “Bob” Cirillo, a retired New York City policeman and paramedic for 30 years, was the featured speaker, sharing his portrayal of Ground Zero and his admiration of the Twin Towers. The 30-year veteran was a paramedic for 10 years and a policeman for 20 years and began serving New York City right out of high school at 19 years old.
“We are all here today because of 9/11 and to remember all of the people who perished on that day. We should also remember all of the people who have perished since then and thank our military who protect us every day from terrorism,” he said.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Cirillo was vacationing in Clearfield and like many that day watched the acts of terrorism unfold on the morning news. He had awoken early and turned on his television to a burning North Tower and watched the smoke pour out.
At first, Cirillo didn’t believe his city was under attack because small and private aircraft flew around the towers. He recalled that on July 22, 1983 while working in communications for EMS, a small plane struck a police helicopter. Both went down.
“I was like OK. A small plane hit the building for whatever reason – a problem with the plane or it went out of control. Like I said, I’m not thinking terrorism,” he said. “But as time unfolded, the second plane hit, and it was clear to me. I knew this was terrorism.”
While watching the South Tower collapse, he also dropped to the ground. He started to weep. A native of New York, the Twin Towers were looked upon as two cities and he thought then about the 60,000 people inside the burning buildings.
Cirillo couldn’t fathom how anyone could have possibly survived the fall. After being taken aback and sometime composing himself, he watched as the North Tower started to fall. At that point, he thought, “OK. I can’t stay here any longer. It’s time to pack up and go home.”
Later on, he learned his statistics were indifferent from his original thinking, and there were 50,000 people employed in the buildings on a daily basis. He also found out that another 200,000 people could have been inside as visitors or there “just because they were beautiful buildings.”
“We’re talking one-quarter of a million people. That’s why I cried. I knew it could be really bad, and it was really bad, but it could have been a lot worse. (Even if) we’d only lost one person, we still would have lost too many,” Cirillo said.
When nearing Ground Zero from half block away, it was still daylight and he described it as “a big heap of mess – rubble.” His heart began to break as he’d seen the buildings when they stood tall, and they’d suddenly collapsed into powdery rubble.
Cirillo observed military officers and presented his New York City police shield, which he wore around his neck. He wanted to volunteer, but his help was turned away. At that moment, he felt “helpless” but could only hope his opportunity would come the next day when he officially returned to work.
But he noticed how the terrorism changed people within 24 hours of the attacks. Just prior to vacation, he’d greet fellow New Yorkers with a “good morning,” and they looked at him like a “lamp post.” Going out into the streets Sept. 12, all of the sudden people were saying “good morning, officer,” something he hadn’t heard most of his career.
While the citizens began to recognize their police, fire and emergency personnel, the tragedy struck his former partner, Jimmy, whom had transferred to the New York City Fire Department. Stationed near the Twin Towers, Jimmy was among the first in and never made it out.
“We used to have a saying in the police department, ‘Timing is everything.’ I was on vacation, and Jimmy was being a New York City fireman. Jimmy was there, and I wasn’t,” said Cirillo. Jimmy’s father, a fire chief, was at Ground Zero helping them find his son.
According to Cirillo, the first days are spent trying to save people’s lives. But three or four days after, it becomes more of a recovery mission. Months later, Jimmy’s father found his son’s helmet and some remains and immediately called for an American flag, which he draped over him to be removed from the rubble.
A few days later, a memorial service was held at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. Cirillo was in attendance as well as approximately 25,000 to 30,000 other people, and of those, there were at least 20,000 police officers and 6,000 firefighters.
Then, Cirillo shared his admiration of the Twin Towers and recalled standing before them for the first time at age 19. The first tower was completed in 1972 and the second in 1973 at which time he had the privilege of going inside.
“I stood before them, and I’ve seen tall buildings in New York. No big deal. But these buildings truly impressed me. I looked up and couldn’t see the top of them. They looked like they went right into the atmosphere,” he said. “I walked in, there are 110 floors and each floor is almost one acre in size.
“Ok. That impressed me. Now, I’m looking for the elevator for the observation deck on the roof. Well, pick one of 104 elevators. That’s impressive. I got on the elevator and it took exactly 60 seconds to reach the top. You get to the top, and it is up 1,400 feet. You’re standing in the air.”
Cirillo said the only way he knew how to describe the Twin Towers was as “America’s pyramids,” serving as symbols of the nation’s freedom and economic prosperity.
“They were more than just buildings . . . and the terrorists wanted to hurt us. That’s why they hit the towers. They were looking to hurt us bad, and they did,” he said.
Terry Wigfield of Clearfield emergency medical services said memories were still fresh from 9/11, remembering his feelings ran from shock to sorrow to anger. Because of the “wake up call” that day, he said the American people have a greater appreciation for freedom’s high cost.
Ten years ago, the nation witnessed the heroism of “ordinary” people who faced “horrific acts with courage,” sacrificing their lives so that others could live. “They gave to the most simple of rules, ‘I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper,’” Wigfield said.
“On a day when others tried to snap our confidence, let us remember how we came together as one nation, as one people and as Americans. (We stood) united not only in our grief, but also in our resolve to stand with one another for our country that we all love.”
Then, Wigfield requested service men and women, including EMS, firefighters, police officers and veterans of any war, to stand at their seats. He followed by asking their families to stand with them.
“Take a look around, just about everyone here is standing,” he said. Greg Hallstrom Sr., president of the Clearfield Volunteer Fire Department, looked out at the service men and woman and said they fight what others fear and run into places where others ran out of.
Hallstrom said it couldn’t have been proven any better than on Sept. 11, 2001 when people ran down the streets away from the collapsing buildings. But he said what people didn’t see was all the firefighters, police and emergency responders who were trying to get there.
“They put their families aside, and they put their whole lives aside to go save somebody else. And, that is what this is all about. In this area, we’re all volunteers and do it for one reason: we want to do it. When you get that training, it’s in your blood. When that fire whistle blows, you just go,” Hallstrom said.
Clearfield’s remembrance began earlier this month when approximately 80 posters drawn by area school students filled storefront windows downtown with imagery remembering the Sept. 11 terror attacks and honoring service men and women of then and the present-day.
However, because the 10th anniversary fell on a Sunday, commemorative events got under way at 9:11 a.m. Friday at which time schools were asked to ring their bells and have students rise for a moment of silence in remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001.
On Saturday, scouts hung several hundred red, white and blue streamers from parking meters, benches and railings and also decorated the entry ways of area businesses and churches with them. The Hobby Garden Club also placed flowers throughout the courthouse square.
On the 10th anniversary, “Old Mooley” blew when each plane struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, 8:46 a.m., the North Tower and 9:03 a.m., the South Tower; 9:37 a.m. the Pentagon in Arlington, VA; and 10:03 a.m. Flight 93 into a rural field in Shanksville.
Each time church bells rang moments later with those in attendance being asked to hold a moment of silence. Community members were asked to observe these times by ringing a bell and recalling where they were on the same day 10 years ago.
A memorial stone, flag and wreath were dedicated Sunday afternoon at the courthouse square to honor the victims of the terror attacks. A remembrance parade was led by veterans who were followed by service men and women to the memorial services at the Clearfield Driving Park.
The program was led musically by Psalm 151 of the St. John Lutheran Church, Clearfield. It opened with The Call for Colors by the Clearfield American Legion and closed with the Taps by John Bodle and Mark Wurster.