Greencastle's 9/11 Walk and ceremony commemorate 20th anniversary of terror attacks
Members of the Greencastle community and representatives of local veterans organizations joined the Rescue Hose Co. Saturday morning, Sept. 11, 2021, "in humble honor of the events 20 years ago and for the last 20 years," according to Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.
They gathered on Eastern Avenue before setting off on the 9/11 Walk down Baltimore Street to Center Square and then to the veterans memorial and monument at borough hall. The route simulated "the 110 floors — 2,071 steps — of the World Trade Center that firefighters, police officers, EMS providers and civilians climbed and descended to save many citizens that morning," according to Thomas, who organized the commemorative events that also included patriotic bluegrass concerts in the afternoon.
Many members of the Rescue Hose Co. wore gray 20th anniversary T-shirts with the words "UNITED WE STAND" on the back.
Others wore their full turnout gear in homage to the first responders who ran to the rescue following the terrorist attacks.
Among the local residents who donned red, white and blue clothes and carried small American flags was the Sixeas family. Brandon Sixeas "had a heck of a birthday" as he turned 19 on Sept. 11, 2001. He'd worked overnight and his best friend woke him up with the news.
He was accompanied by his wife Brittany, her mother Debbie Border and their children Landree, 9, Eversyn, 3, and Slade, 2 months.
They wanted to show support for all the victims and volunteers of 9/11 and the volunteers of today, Brittany Sixeas said, while her mother added they also wanted to remember the history of 9/11.
Maci Patterson, 7, was visiting from western Ohio and walked with her grandfather, Frank Klink, a member of the Rescue Hose Co.
Maci is homeschooled and earlier in the week she learned about Sept. 11, 2001, when "airplanes crashed into two buildings."
"Great Americans, let's move," Thomas said to start the 9/11 Walk. It concluded with a ceremony to remember the "10,000 great Americans" who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, from illnesses in the aftermath and during service in the Global War on Terror and to honor those who serve today in the military and emergency services.
Thomas recited the times for each plane crash — the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon and Shanksville.
"All of us remember. Just like this it was a beautiful day," said state Rep. Paul Schemel, who recalled driving to his office in Waynesboro "having no idea what was in store for us."
"Al-Qaeda did this to us and we did justice to them," said Schemel, an attorney who left Greencastle and his family in July 2008 to spend 11 months working for the U.S. Department of State helping Iraq rebuild after being liberated from Saddam Hussein.
Greencastle Borough Council President Steve Miller also shared first-hand knowledge from working in Kuwait.
"Afghanistan was not in vain," said Miller, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a retired U.S. Army captain.
"We had peace and safety here at home ... we were there so they wouldn't come here."
Greater love has no man than he who would lay down his life for his friends, Miller cited John 15:13.
"People ran to the fire that day," Miller said. "God has raised up men and women who will always run to the fight."
Service and sacrifice
Thomas asked all the veterans at the ceremony to raise their hands and pointed out Pvt. 2 Evan Shatzer. The 17-old-year, who walked in his Army camouflage, did early enlistment and spent his summer at basic and air assault training. Also a junior member of the Rescue Hose Co. and Marion Volunteer Fire Co., he's home for his senior year at Greencastle-Antrim High School.
"To the members of the Rescue Hose Co., it's been an honor to serve with you for 47 years," Thomas said, adding the Greencastle Police Department was established in 1882 and the fire department in 1896.
"Locally, look at the service and sacrifice of the men and women here today," Thomas said. The veterans monument is for the living and names of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice are inscribed on the veterans memorial.
"Look at our freedom," Thomas said, explaining people can walk into borough hall and speak their mind or one of the nearby churches to worship.
The last name on the memorial is Master Sgt. Benjamin Franklin Bitner, a 37-year-old special forces officer who was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 23, 2011.
"He's living right here. This is where he lives," Thomas said of Bitner, who also was a member of the Rescue Hose Co.
He shared from recent letters that Bitner's parents, Roger and Bev, received from military leaders.
"It is our sacred promise to never forget the sacrifice you and your loved ones have made on behalf of a grateful Nation," says an Aug. 23 letter from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Team. "Recent events in Afghanistan remind us how thankful we are for a generation of our Nation's finest who raised their hands and said, 'send me.'"
Thomas lauded the men and women who volunteer to serve in the military, including Bitner's son, Rogue, who is now in basic training, before the ceremony ended with a moment of silence.
Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at email@example.com