SALEM — Under a bright blue sky and in front of a steel beam pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center, the city of Salem paid tribute to those lost on Sept. 11, 2001, Saturday morning.
In an hour-long ceremony outside Salem Fire Department Headquarters, speakers recalled their own experiences of that day, but also the sacrifices of first responders, servicemembers, and families and communities touched by the lost and damaged lives — and renewed calls for unity in a pandemic-weary and politically-divided nation.
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, who enlisted in the Marines after graduating from college in 2001, recalled how the nation came together in the days after the terrorist attack.
“One of the worst days in American history brought out the best in America,” said Moulton.
State Sen. Joan Lovely recalled that unity as well. “I too recall that we came together after those moments,” said Lovely. “We were so united. It doesn’t feel as much that way today.”
Moulton said he believes that the anniversary is significant not only as a milestone, 20 years, but because “for the first time in two decades we’re no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan.”
“The best way to preserve the memory and legacies of those we lost on Sept. 11 is to uphold the spirit of unity that was demonstrated following that day and remain committed to protecting our country so attacks like this never happen again,” said Moulton.
Salem fire Chief Alan Dionne spoke of the toll both on that day, and in the years since, from injuries and illnesses among the first responders at Ground Zero, to those who stepped up to serve their country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among the latter group, Dionne said, was one former Salem firefighter, Kevin O’Boyle, who joined the department after serving in Afghanistan and who succumbed to what his mother believes was combat-related PTSD in 2013.
“The events of 9/11, which took place 20 years ago to this day, shook the nation to its core,” said Dionne. “Many lives were lost, and many made the ultimate sacrifice since. What happened that day should never be forgotten. That is why we are here today. To remember and to educate. I see a lot of young people here. It’s important to teach them about those events, so they will never forget.”
Among those too young to recall that day or not yet born were members of the Salem High School Marine ROTC, who led the posting of the colors, local Scouts, and Salem High School student Aimena Puayu, who read a poem written by New York writer Kevin Powell weeks after 9/11.
“See each one of us today with our differences and our common bonds, so that we might be united by your presence,” the Rev. Laura Biddle prayed in an invocation.
Moulton read the names of 17 residents of the 6th District who died that day. He also took time to read the names of the 13 servicemembers killed outside the Kabul airport on Aug. 26, including Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence.
Lovely spoke of her pride in Salem’s first responders, some of whom traveled to Ground Zero to help. “I couldn’t be more proud of this community and what it represents,” said Lovely.
Rep. Paul Tucker recalled the pain that turned to anger and then sadness, and finally, resilience. “Our American spirit would have it no other way,” said Tucker.
He recalled the emotion on the faces of those who were running into the towers that day, their steely resolve. “Look at their eyes,” he said. They were heroes, as were the passengers on Flight 93 who “stood up against evil.”
“History will recognize that on one of the worst days in American history, 20 years ago today, in the face of unimaginable loss, the best of America stood up and stood tall,” said Tucker. “We came together.”
Mayor Kim Driscoll cited Nathaniel Hawthorne, who said “time flies over us but leaves its shadow behind.”
She spoke of the brave Salem firefighters who were among members of the FEMA Task Force at Ground Zero for the recovery effort. The shadows of Sept. 11 “will likely never fully be gone from our lives, or the lives of future generations of Americans. It’s changed so much.
“But as tragic as that day was, it helps to remember that a shadow can exist only where there is also light,” said Driscoll.
Salem police Chief Lucas Miller honored the moment with a short announcement that was carried across police radios across the city. “On this day, 20 years later, we remember their courage, their sacrifice and the tragedy of their loss.”
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis