It doesn’t matter that it’s been 17 years. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is one of those infamous moments when anyone old enough to remember knows exactly what they were doing when it happened.
At separate 9/11 memorial ceremonies in Lewiston and Auburn on Tuesday morning, elected officials and local fire and police personnel paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who died in the attacks, which included hundreds of first responders.
And as the years pass, they want to make sure younger generations remember what transpired, and how it altered the course of the world.
“Over the years, these memories seem to fade a bit from the forefront as we move forward,” Lewiston Fire Chief Brian Stockdale said. “There are young people too young to remember. So I always pose the question of, ‘How do we remember? How do we honor those who fell?'”
Stockdale said members of local fire and police departments honor those who died by getting into their police cars and firetrucks every day and by continuing to serve their communities.
For U.S. Sen. Angus King, who spoke at both events Tuesday, the anniversary of 9/11 is a chance to remember why the country was attacked and how the country came together in its aftermath.
King said the moment ushered in a new era of warfare that it still playing out globally.
“They were attacking our ideas — all people are created equal, equal opportunity — they were attacking the idea of America,” he said. “I would argue it was the beginning of an attack that’s continuing today.”
He said during 9/11 “they used airplanes at the towers,” and “now they can use the click of a computer key in St. Petersburg, Russia, to attack us.”
King said these forms of warfare, no matter where they’re coming from, attempt to undermine America “because of who we are.”
Both ceremonies Tuesday morning featured honor guards and a ceremonial bell-ringing at significant moments. Dozens of fire department and law enforcement personnel stood by solemnly, along with local elected officials and a few residents.
In Auburn, a bell was struck at 8:46 a.m., marking the moment when the north tower of the World Trade Center was struck by the first airplane. In Lewiston, the bell rang out at 9:59 a.m., the moment when the south tower collapsed.
Many were quick to memorialize the 343 firefighters and 71 members of law enforcement who died among hundreds of civilians, as well as hundreds more first responders who have been diagnosed with cancer in the years since.
Auburn Fire Chief Bob Chase said he was working as an engineer when the attack occurred. But, he said, he grew up in a household of firefighters, and “if anything drove me from being an engineer back to firefighting, it was that event.”
Chase said Tuesday’s ceremony was a recognition of fallen first responders and those who are still in those roles today.
King said there aren’t many professions like it.
“The other thing that’s important to remember about Sept. 11 is the first responders, the people who, when they sign their job application, are literally putting their lives on the line,” King said.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who also spoke at both observances, said he spent Monday night watching videos from 9/11. He said it’s important for people to take a moment to remember that day and to honor first responders who “make this a better country.”
“It’s important to never, ever forget 9/11,” he said. “If we don’t remember our past, we lose our history.”
Poliquin also used his remarks Tuesday to comment on ongoing protests of racial inequality in law enforcement, which have come under public scrutiny over the past two years by President Donald Trump, among others. Poliquin said that while it’s every citizen’s constitutional right to protest, “it should not be in protest of our first responders.”
“We should honor those who keep us safe,” Poliquin said.
Tuesday’s events also featured remarks from a representative from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office, Auburn City Manager Peter Crichton, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque and Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard.
At the closing of his remarks, Bouchard read the name of every person killed during the attacks who had ties to Maine.
“Although that day resulted in loss and heartbreak, it’s never defined who we are as a nation,” he said.
Earlier in Auburn, King said something similar. He said following the attacks, the United States came together as a country.
“There is so much more that unites us than divides us,” he said. “It’s a shame that it takes a crisis or an attack to remind us of that.”