BY MICHAEL J. RUDOLF
As the sun set over a hillside just outside South Montrose, several hundred people gathered to remember those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.
The ceremony was held at a memorial park that honors Danny Crisman, a South Montrose native who died while working in the North Tower when the planes hit.
The keynote speaker was retired FBI Special Agent Wesley Wong, the senior FBI commander at Ground Zero nine years ago.
Wong said he normally doesn’t participate in memorial ceremonies, preferring to spend each Sept. 11 in quiet personal reflection.
However, he said when he received the request from Debbie Crisman, Danny’s mom, he wasn’t sure why but something about it made him decide to attend.
Wong told how he came to be at the World Trade Center that day. He noted that he was in the neighborhood when he learned that a plane had crashed into the building.
“Obviously everything changed when the second plane hit,” Wong said.
He said a young firefighter approached him and the others overseeing the scene and excitedly described what had happened in the other tower.
“Once I understood what that young fireman was saying, I thought we were at war and we are under attack,” he said.
Wong described how he has had to deal with the loss of two of his colleagues when the towers collapsed.
The body of one has never been found, he said.
The last time Wong attended a 9/11 ceremony was in 2002, on the first anniversary of the attack. He was asked to read some of the names of the victims. That stirred him to make a personal vow.
“I made a promise to myself. If I had an opportunity to keep alive the memory of the poor souls that were lost, I would do it,” he said.
Those in attendance also paid tribute to Staff Sgt. Daniel Arnold of Montrose, who was killed fighting in Iraq just over four years later.
The entrance to the park was flanked by ladder trucks from fire companies in Montrose and Clifford. The firefighters were there not only to pay homage to the local men, but to all of their comrades killed that day.
The ceremony is organized each year by Crisman who said it is her mission to make sure people remember that day.
“I want them to remember Sept. 11. I don’t want them to forget it,” she said.
There were some new features added to the park since last year’s ceremony, Debbie Crisman said. There are now 39 state flags, representing the home states of all of those killed on 9/11, along with the flags of 11 foreign countries whose citizens died that day as well.
The event was filled with remembrances and song. Cheryl Russell, Arnold’s sister, thanked everyone for the kindness and support she and her family have received. She asked everyone to join in a prayer for peace.
Her son, Zachary Russell, sang two songs to remember Crisman and Arnold. Family members also placed wreaths at the front of the memorial.
Command Sgt. Major Don Robinson of Montrose, serving as the host of the event, thanked the local firefighters, ambulance personnel and other emergency responders for attending, and also for their dedicated service. He also recognized the many military people in the audience, and noted his appreciation for their work.