Twenty years ago, as 9/11 unfolded, Brian Moriarty was a paramedic for Lawrence General Hospital watching the television in an emergency room as the South Tower collapsed.

He knew rescues had to have been underway when the 110-story tower fell in New York City. His first thought was: "How many firefighters were killed?"

At 9 a.m. tomorrow on the 20th anniversary of the suicide attacks that killed almost 3,000 people on 9/11 -- including many from the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire -- Moriarty, now Lawrence's fire chief, and others will speak near the 9/11 memorial mural in Lawrence at the South Broadway fire station.

Hours later on Saturday he and other Lawrence officials and residents will be present for the return of Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario's body to her home city.

The 25-year-old Lawrence woman and 12 other American military personnel were killed on Aug. 26 by suicide bombings as they helped people desperate to flee Afghanistan days before the war's end.

Much has happened between the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan and the 9/11 attacks that led to the war's beginning and its mission to take down 9/11 masterminds and combat terrorism.

The memories of people who have been alive long enough to remember all of the last 20 years -- about three-quarters of the U.S. population -- have been shaped by all that has happened in the intervening decades.

The region's 9/11 remembrances on Saturday will pay respect to the people lost on that day and reflect on the passage of almost a generation since 2001.

Remembrances will include an 8:30 a.m. ceremony in Andover in front of the town offices that remembers Christopher Morrison, Millie Naiman, Betty Ong and Len Taylor.

A noon ceremony on Methuen's Patriot Bridge will remember Douglas C. Gowell, Peter P. Hashem, Mildred R. Naiman, Marie Pappalardo, Patrick J. Quigley IV and Kenneth E. Waldie

A 6 p.m. veterans' dedication in Haverhill will include a moment of silence for Jane Orth and Kenneth Marino, the husband of Haverhill native Katrina Marino.

And everyone in the region, a majority of whom who will not be at ceremonies, will in some way think about how they and America have been changed by 9/11 and the last 20 years.

Reflections

For the last two years the Lawrence fire chief has found himself wondering about the many people who were born after 9/11.

"What do they think about it? How do they think of it?" Moriarty said.

It was akin to him as a child thinking about WW II, he said. He was born in 1961, the 20th anniversary year of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. WW II wasn't given a lot of attention in grammar school and it seemed so distant to him, he said.

The Tuesday morning attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, seem not so distant to many Americans.

Londonderry Police Chief William Hart, a Marine Corps veteran, was seated at a desk in the old Londonderry police station.

"Sgt. Dan Murphy came in and said, 'We are under attack,'" Hart recalled. "He and I didn’t know what he meant by that, and we went to the dispatch TV and tuned in to the same pictures that everyone saw."

Twenty years into the future, the nation, as individuals and collectively, still feels a residue of anxiety from 9/11. But it is important for people to remember and recommit themselves to the ideals of democracy, a grave threat to terrorists who would do the nation harm once again, he said.

The reaction

The arrival of violence to the nation's doorstep on 9/11 brought a 20-year war and thousands of deaths of soldiers and civilians abroad, and major changes to America, including the Patriot Act, which expanded surveillance and increased the nation's powers to respond to terrorism, said UMass Lowell sociology professor Teresa Gonzales.

"So much has happened since then, the more than 650,000 deaths from COVID-19, ongoing social issues," she said.

Rich Padova, a history professor at Northern Essex Community College, says events and tragedies since 9/11 do not overshadow the attacks but have levied a cumulative effect.

They include the war in Iraq, the 2007-08 Great Recession, immigration issues, the killing of blacks by police, violence in America’s cities, the Trump brouhaha over the 2020 election, the storming of the U.S. Capitol and COVID-19, he said.

"Peoples’ heads are spinning and they have had to deal with and process so much more in the way of events and tragedies since 9/11, that it’s now one tragedy in the mix of many over the past 20 years," he said.

The fight

At the outset, the attacks of 9/11 motivated military enlistment. By now, however, a soldier could have enlisted and retired since the beginning and end of the war in Afghanistan

Bob Stuart, commander of American Legion Post 27 in Londonderry, was 10 years removed from his service in the Marine Corps and Operation Desert Storm at the time of 9/11.

He had a hard time getting his mind around what happened in the 9/11 attacks, but over the last two decades many Marines and soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have had to grapple with harrowing experiences.

"I was talking to a young Marine, 28, and he was talking about the first time he killed someone," Stuart said. The young Marine, a junior enlisted man, was protecting a staff sergeant. Someone gave the young man the spent shell from his kill shot.

The scars of war, the worst of which include seeing friends killed, bring anguish to many, Stuart said.

Joseph LeBlanc, veterans service officer for North Andover, said the images from coverage of the U.S. withdrawal from Kabul, Afghanistan at the end of August brought back painful memories for Vietnam War veterans in North Andover and Boxford.

LeBlanc was serving food at a veterans cookout and heard them talk about the eerie resemblances between the evacuation images of the U.S. withdrawal from Kabul in 2021 and those in Saigon in 1975.

LeBlanc, who was in the U.S. Army from 2003-2018 and had tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said a part of him was frustrated when he saw recent news coverage of Taliban fighters in possession U.S. weapons and vehicles.

At the same time, he said, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan succeeded in preventing an attack on American soil by Al-Qaeda and led to the killing of its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Lessons

In the U.S., in the wake of 9/11 and its massive communications failures in New York City, disaster response among fire and police departments and other agencies have improved through multi-band radios, back-up communications systems and emergency response training.

Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said communications among departments played a huge role in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover's response to the Merrimack Valley natural gas explosions on Sept. 13, 2018.

Seventeen years earlier, on 9/11, Mansfield was a Nashua, New Hampshire, Fire Department firefighter and training in California for a regional urban search and rescue team out of Beverly.

It was one of the first teams to respond to the wreckage of the towers in New York City.

The weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary have given Americans a chance to reflect or think anew about the day and its aftermath.

The Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen has a 9/11 poster exhibit on display and at noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday will host a webinar of a 35-minute documentary by the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. It includes interviews with first responders to the 9/11 attacks and family members of those who were killed.

Library Director Krista McLeod said the events of 9/11 have had a profound effect on the America we have become in the 21st century and public commemorations of historic events are an important part of teaching the young.

"We need to give young people the opportunity to understand these events in the context of what came before and what has come after," she said.

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