Twelve years ago, on the morning of Sept. 11, then Lawrence Deputy Chief Jack Bergeron was at home, schooling his 14-year-old twins.
He got a call, telling him to turn on the television. And he watched as destruction unfolded before his eyes.
Now Lawrence Fire Department chief, Bergeron recounted his emotions that horrific morning at yesterday’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony outside Lowell Street fire headquarters.
“The firefighters in New York were faced with an impossible situation,” Bergeron said. “I can’t say enough about the heroism that day.”
More than 50 firefighters, both retired and active duty, along with two dozens members of the public attended the 8:30 a.m. ceremony. It was one of many held across the Merrimack Valley yesterday.
In Lawrence, Rev. William Waters spoke to the crowd, recalling how after 9/11 churches across the country with filled with people. Waters, a campus minister at Merrimack College in North Andover, also offered caution, noting “we will never know if another 9/11 will take place in our lives.”
Lawrence Deputy Chief Brian Murphy took the podium, proudly reading the poem “We Shall Never Forget,” by Alan Jankowski.
Agreeing with Waters, Mayor William Lantigua said people did come together after 9/11. However, he added, we shouldn’t “wait for a moment of tragedy to come together.”
“Thank you to all who served then and all those who serve to keep us safe now,” Lantigua added.
Fire Lt. James Flynn served as emcee at yesterday’s event. He was aided during the ceremony by firefighters Miguel Baez and Raymond Kenyon III. Kenyon’s father, Raymond Kenyon Jr., a retired Lawrence firefighter, played the bag pipes yesterday.
Waters, in his closing prayer, asked God “to help us to remember what’s like to be an American.”
In Methuen, flags in front of the fire headquarters came down, and the silence hung heavy as the humid morning air. Then the bells rang out, three sets of five peals, a longtime signal of a firefighter lost.
Yesterday morning’s remembrance was not just for firefighters, but for those lost in the terrorist attacks 12 years ago, including six who died and either lived in Methuen or had a Methuen connection: Douglas C. Gowell, Peter P. Hashem, Mildred R. Naiman, Marie Pappalardo, Patrick J. Quigley IV, Kenneth E. Waldie.
Their names are memorialized on plaques on the Patriot Bridge, which carries Lowell Street over the Spicket River and was dedicated to them in 2003.
“More recently I’ve been hearing that some departments are no longer observing it publicly,” said Methuen Fire Chief Steven Buote, who gave opening and closing remarks. “They’re observing it quietly in their stations. But I feel it’s important. This wasn’t just a loss to the fire department. We lost 343 firefighters, but police were lost, EMS were lost, and so many regular citizens were lost. It’s important to keep this a public observance because it truly affected everybody.”
Buote told the crowd gathered at the station at Five Corners that the public thinks of Sept. 11 on that day each year, but those who lost loved ones think of it every day. He estimated a couple hundred people attended the brief remembrance, including most of the Fire Department, a good representation of the Police Department and numerous elected officials.
In North Andover, yesterday’s commemoration of the terrorist attacks fulfilled “a promise that we would never forget,” in the words of the Rev. Lee Bluemel, pastor of North Parish, who offered the invocation at the ceremony.
Bluemel, a Unitarian Universalist minister and a chaplain for the Fire Department, prayed that America will “find a way back from the brink of war.”
Fire Chief Andrew Melnikas, who acted as master of ceremonies, reminded those who attended the observance that the attacks killed 2,977 people, including 411 firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians. Fires at what used to be the World Trade Center in New York burned for 99 days after the attacks, the chief noted.
“Each of you remembers where you were,” Veterans Agent Ed Mitchell said of Sept. 11, 2001. “We must remain committed,” he said, to the men and women of the armed forces who have waged the war against terrorism.
Lt. Scott Nussbaum read the firefighter’s prayer, while Officer Brian Faye offered the police officer’s prayer. In a strong, clear, resonant voice, Kyle McAdam, a North Andover High School senior, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Andover remembered the victims of 9/11 in a ceremony in front of Town Offices.
There was a floral tribute to local victims, Christopher Morrison, Millie Naiman, Betty Ong and Len Taylor. The program honored the courageous “Citizen Soldier” in the National Guard and Reserves who answered the call in the Global War on Terror to keep Americans safe in a post-9/11 world.
One of Andover’s own Citizen Soldiers — U.S. Army Reserves SFC John Nicholas, a well-decorated and near 30-year veteran of armed service — called for attendees to honor those who serve today by never forgetting the attacks that may have spurred their enlistment.
“When a reservist or National Guardsman deploys, home and work life is disrupted. Family members go from being civilians to being military dependents,” Nicholas said. “To put that into perspective, the sacrifice families of citizen soldiers make, during my deployments, I’ve missed over 100 little league games, over 50 junior high school football games, 30 birthdays, over 20 holidays, five wedding anniversaries, and I have yet to make it to a graduation for one of my children.”
During his remarks, Nicholas named two soldiers he knew in his career who died while serving, lives cut short while answering the call in the Global War on Terror that responded to the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Many ways, it was easier on me being deployed than it was on my family,” Nicholas said. “For those people I’ve mentioned here today, and for the thousands serving worldwide right now to keep us safe, that’s why we must remember the events and sacrifice of Sept. 11.”
Staff reporters Jill Harmacinski, Yadira Betances, Dustin Luca, Paul Tennant and Doug Moser contributed to this report.