AUBURN — Emotions ran close to the surface as thoughts and memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the nation flooded back at Sunday morning’s commemoration program at Auburn Central Fire Station.
Several hundred people attended the event organized jointly by Auburn and Lewiston’s police and fire departments. The program followed a timeline matching the tragedy 10 years ago of hijacked airliners targeting the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a flight above Pennsylvania.
Local public safety personnel and dignitaries honored rescuers and victims with several speeches in which they could not choke back tears. At the close of the morning’s ceremonies, a battered piece of steel that had been a part of the fallen twin towers was unveiled along with a large granite marker with engraved explanation. The steel and marker are now a permanent memorial at the Central Fire Station on Auburn’s Minot Avenue.
Dozens of people of all ages moved past the bowed piece of steel, which is about 12 feet long and six inches on all sides, hollow in the middle. Nearly all of them paused and reached out to place a hand on the steel.
Sunday’s program began at 8:46 a.m., the minute when the first plane struck the North Tower in Manhattan. An honor guard marched to the sound of bagpipes and drums of the Kora Shrine Temple’s Highlanders, a solemn bell sounded several times, and a moment of silence was observed for those lost on the plane and in the tower.
The attendees then took part in open house tours through the fire station and looked over firetrucks parked along Minot Avenue. A giant American flag attached to ladder trucks of both Lewiston and Auburn’s fire departments flew above the street.
Then, at 9:03 a.m. the tours were interrupted in the same way that news of another plane hitting the Trade Center’s south tower interrupted the nation’s initial shock. At 9:37 a.m. the bell sounded again and a moment of silence was observed for the third plane, which struck the west side of the Pentagon.
The ritual of bell and silence was repeated at 9:59 a.m. marking the collapse of the south tower in New York, and again at 10:03 a.m., the time the fourth hijacked plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
The first speaker to take the podium for remarks to the crowd was Karen Staples, representative of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe. She read a letter from Snowe, who was at similar ceremonies featuring the Freeport Flag Ladies. Staples has fulfilled the letter-reading duty at many public events, but the overwhelming power of Sunday’s gathering was soon evident. She began reading, but as the senator’s message spoke of the valor of American people on that terrible day, her voice broke. She struggled to continue and had to pause as tears flowed, but she finished the letter.
Carlene Tremblay, representative of Sen. Susan Collins, also read a letter, and the impact upon her was also obvious.
Similar emotion surfaced in remarks by Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, Auburn Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen, Lewiston Assistant Fire Chief Bruce McKay and Auburn Mayor Richard Gleason.
Auburn Fire Department Lt. Eric Cobb, who served as master of ceremonies, also voiced heartfelt remarks about his comrades.
AFD Deputy Chief Jeffrey Low conducted the unveiling of the steel from the World Trade Center. Ten white doves released by White Doves of Maine flew skyward from the memorial location. One flock of five doves rose first, followed by another flock of five. They wheeled in separate flocks several hundred feet into the air and, as the bagpipers played “Amazing Grace,” the doves merged into a single flock.
The program concluded with four members of Auburn Police Department’s Regional Explorer Post 333 lowering and folding a flag that had previously flown above a base in Afghanistan. Participating in that ceremony were Sgt. Cassandra Giguere, Cpl. Aaron Tremblay, Explorer Christina Moreno and Explorer Matt Allen.
Tom Dostie presented 9/11 commemorative flags to each of the Twin Cities’ fire departments. His flag-bedecked truck has been a familiar sight in area parades and patriotic ceremonies ever since the tragedy.
The program’s invocation was delivered by LFD Chaplain Paul McLaughlin.
An American Red Cross blood drive was held throughout the morning with blood being drawn by Red Cross personnel inside the Central Fire Station. Pati Keene, volunteer, said at 11 a.m. that there had been “an amazing response.” Signups totaled 71, with 49 of them being walk-ins.
Keene said people were being asked to go to other blood drive sites because it was apparent that the Auburn site would not be able to handle all the donors before 1 p.m.