First responders, veterans and citizens honored the loss and sacrifice of Sept. 11 in a ceremony Saturday morning in Portland, exactly 20 years after the 2001 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S.

Police and firefighters stood in formation and onlookers clustered around the 9/11 memorial in Fort Allen Park. Portland Police Chief Frank Clark remembered the emergency workers who risked and lost their lives in the rescue efforts that day. And he saluted the first responders in front of him, also committed to running into danger.

“These are men and women who, like those on 9/11, are willing to risk their lives for others and to be part of something bigger than themselves,” he said.

Portland-area first responders stand at attention at Fort Allen Park during a memorial service Saturday. Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Clark said only about a quarter of the current Portland police force had been serving on Sept. 11. That tells him two things, he said – one, “that I’m getting old,” and two, that it remains ever more important to publicly commemorate what happened.

Portland Fire Chief Keith Gautreau echoed that thought, and urged those listening to remember the national unity of the days and months following the attacks.

“That day changed many things for our country,” from new wars to the way that Americans travel, he said. “Let us put our political and social differences aside for at least one day and keep our promise to never forget.”


First responders laid a wreath at the 9/11 memorial, a stone tablet with the names of Maine’s seven victims of the attacks. They were Jackie and Robert Norton, James Roux, Stephen Ward, Robert Allan Schlegel, Carol Flyzik and Robert Jalbert. At 8:46 a.m., the moment the first plane hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower, a bell rang.

Attendees also remembered Maine’s connection to the hijackers, two of whom stayed in a South Portland hotel and passed through Portland International Jetport on their way to the attacks. Airport workers who encountered the terrorists told the Portland Press Herald last week that those fleeting moments still haunt them two decades later. That includes a ticket agent, who, suspicious of the men, didn’t issue them boarding passes for their connecting flight from Boston to Los Angeles.

Roberta and George Gordon, who drove down from Raymond for the ceremony, both remember where they were on Sept. 11, 2001.

George, a periodontist, heard the news in surgery and had to finish the procedure before he could react.

Portland Fire Department Lt. Paul Hallvorsen plays Amazing Grace on the bagpipes Saturday at Fort Allen Park, during a 20 year memorial of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Roberta was at her mother’s 84th birthday party in Rochester, New York, where the phones were tied up with well-wishers’ calls. Finally her brother got through and urged her to turn on the television.

Their lives changed “dramatically,” George Gordon said. “Even though we were in the middle of this catastrophe, we all came together.”


He added, like many others who rued present-day political divisions on Saturday, “I wish we could come together for this COVID thing.”

On Saturday, people all over Maine and the United States mourned the victims of the attacks and remembered the sacrifice of veterans and first responders.

In Gorham, the Stephen Ward 9/11 Memorial 5K Run/Walk and Kids’ Fun Run honored Ward, a Gorham native who died in the North Tower. Ward, a graduate of Gorham High School and the University of Maine, worked on the 101st floor.

In Topsham, a memorial ceremony took place outside the town hall and included remarks from Elizabeth Reeves of Topsham Fire and Rescue, who worked for the New York City Fire Department on the day of the attacks.

In Bangor, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins attended a memorial on the city’s waterfront organized by Bangor High School’s Junior ROTC. “It was a fitting reminder of the losses, courage, and heroism of that terrible day 20 years ago,” Collins said in a tweet Saturday.

And at the sites of the plane crashes in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, mourners gathered for a solemn anniversary that coincided with the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, invaded after those attacks so long ago.


In Lower Manhattan, Mike Low, father of Sara Low, a flight attendant on one of the planes, said he appreciated the people who felt called to serve others because the attacks, The Associated Press reported.

“It felt like an evil specter had descended on our world, but it was also a time when many people acted above and beyond the ordinary,” Low said, addressing a crowd that included President Biden and former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

“As we carry these 20 years forward,” Low said, “I find sustenance in a continuing appreciation for all of those who rose to be more than ordinary people.”

No politicians spoke at the Ground Zero remembrance, as is custom. But in Shanksville, George W. Bush, whose presidency was defined by the attacks and the ensuing “War on Terror” that he initiated, urged Americans to remember the country’s post-9/11 unity.

“So much of our politics have become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment,” Bush said. “On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand, and rally for the cause of one another. That is the America I know.”

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