Despite high winds that gusted to roughly 20 mph, dozens of local and visiting firefighters braved the annual trek to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to honor the first responders of 9/11.
The climb, which is now in its fifth year, is a tribute to the 2997 people who died that day in New York, Washington, D.C., and near Shanksville, Pa. More than 400 first responders died at the Twin Towers, including 343 firefighters, 23 members of the New York City police force, and 37 from the Port Authority Police.
“Our mission here is to never forget – it’s that simple,” said Jeffrey Del Monte, deputy chief of the Buxton Volunteer Fire Department. “It’s hard to believe that it’s been 16 years… I hope in 50 years when I’m long gone that there’s a group of firefighters here carrying on that goal to ‘never forget.’”
Volunteer firefighters from Avon, Buxton, Chicamacomico, Frisco, and Hatteras participated in the climb, as well as firefighters from Southern Shores, Duck, and Kill Devil Hills. In addition, several visiting current and veteran firefighters also joined in the event.
Firefighters Chavez Wilson from Harford County, Maryland and Willie Weber from Oxford, Pennsylvania were invited to participate while at a local restaurant, and veteran firefighter Don Labanca from Hampden, Connecticut joined the climb to the top as well.
“I’ve vacationed here every year since 1993,” said Labanca, “and it’s fitting to be here right now to honor [the first responders] and to remember.”
Part-time Hatteras islander Mike Regan, who was a first responder at the Pentagon on the morning of the attacks, echoed this sentiment moments after the climb. “Well done,” he said to the assembled firefighters. “[This was] a successful mission today – Never forget.”
More than 50 firefighters, National Park Service personnel, and other responders made the hike up the 257 steps to the top of the lighthouse, as EMTs remained stationed close to the base in case of an emergency or medical issue. The climb began at exactly 8:46 a.m., to mark the time that American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City
The firefighters were weighted down with full gear, (a deliberate and significant tribute to the first responders of 9/11 who made their way up the Twin Towers), but took just minutes to reach the top where they flew an American flag.
A crowd of family members, friends, and visitors stood at the base of the lighthouse and watched, taking in the scene, and the moment.
“My mom was a medic for 30 years, and I am glad I could be here for this,” said visitor Ann Galloway from Ohio. “I was a social worker at an elementary school at the time, and when [the attack] happened, it was the worst day of my life.”
“It’s humbling,” said Tricia Watson from Avon, whose husband, Zac – a volunteer firefighter – made the climb to the top, “and it’s a moving tribute.”
The first wave of firefighters returned from the top of the lighthouse by 9:05, and by 9:25, all of the first responders were back on the ground. Unlike previous years, the cooler temperatures made the event far comfortable for both the participants and the bystanders watching from below.
After the climb, Del Monte thanked the crowd for attending, as well as all the people who participated in the annual climb. “It’s great to see everyone take time out of their day to reflect and get together,” he said. “This is just a tiny gesture… but it means a lot to all of us.”
The assembled firefighters and spectators joined in a moment of silence after the climb to honor the fallen heroes of 9/11.
Many folks in the crowd were thankful for the event, and grateful for the volunteer firefighters themselves who do a world a good for their local communities.
“Most of you are volunteers, and we thank you for all that you do,” said Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac. “We continually thank all of you for that day, and for every day that you watch out for all of us.”
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