WOONSOCKET – It was a small gathering of just over 50 people at the city’s Korean and Vietnam War memorial at Thomas A. Shipp Square near the Police Station, but one that did go the distance in marking the 12th anniversary of Sept. 11 and how that day still holds the nation’s attention.
The ceremony included a moment of silence for the victims of Sept. 11, a reading of the events of that stunningly perfect September morning 12 years ago, and the placing of wreath for the approximately 3,000 people killed that day. A former city resident, United Airlines Flight 175 Flight Attendant Amy Jarret, was among those remembered at the ceremony.
“We stand united this late afternoon in early September, as a somber and undaunted tribute to unsuspecting and heroic individuals who perished on September 11th, 2001,” United Veterans Council and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 11519 member Joseph L.B. Nadeau, ceremony master of ceremonies, said as the observance began in Wednesday’s 91-degree heat just after 4 p.m.
“We unite for those we lost, those in sorrow who continue to survive the loss of loved ones, those who steadfastly cleared the carnage, those who today serve against the evil of the terrorism,” Nadeau said.
The ceremony also commemorated the men and women who in the aftermath of the terrorist attack “have sacrificed their lives to save others, took action against the perpetrators of 9-11 and those who continue to remember and rebuild,” he said.
While giving his benediction for the ceremonies, the Rev. Phil Salois, a chaplain with Vietnam Veterans Chapter 818, asked the gathering to “grieve with those who still mourn and share memories with those who cannot forget.”
He also asked that the participants “draw strength from those who bravely responded and gave their lives to save others. May we stand with strangers who became neighbors that day and remember their generosity and their hospitality,” Salois said. The chaplain also asked for God’s blessing on the people and leaders “in this nation and all nations so that warfare, like slavery before it, may become only a historic memory.”
Charles Deslauniers sang the national anthem for the ceremony, and members of the Woonsocket High School Air Force Junior ROTC Wing, the Woonsocket Police Honor Guard, and members of Boy Scout Troop 2 in Cumberland and Troop 59 in Blackstone posted the U.S. flag before the gathering.
Members of the United Veterans Council helping to put on the event, including President Richard Schatz and past President Melvin Defoe, invited both city and state elected officials to address the gathering, as well as Rhode Island veterans with connections to Sept. 11th aftermath, such as Jack St. Jean and Denise Spinks.
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine commended all of the veterans, police officers, firefighters and local residents who attended for “remembering this day in our country that brought such change to us. It is so important that we sit here today and remember because not only was it an attack against our country, it was an attack against the fabric of our nation and our culture,” Fontaine said. “And what our nation proved was that we could come together to overcome the challenges of what happened that day, and the loss of life and the loss of our innocence as a country to some degree,” Fontaine said.
“As we stand here today, it is so fitting that we are here among ourselves and with so many of our young people to be able to send the message that this country stood strong and rebuilt and we became closer as a country,” Fontaine said.
Fontaine noted that 12 years later, the United States was able to defeat “the individual that was responsible for the attack on our nation,” but still faces many challenges for the future just as the state and the local community does.
“I’m sure it is with that same determination that we can come together to overcome those challenges, and we stand here with our veterans who have given their all and their lives to continue to serve our nation and to protect the safety of our country and our freedoms,” Fontaine said.
He also offered praise to the local veteran organizations who work to put on such events and help those still in the military.
“We have so many great people here and I want to thank them for their service,” Fontaine said before asking for a round of applause.
Schatz recalled how the events of 12 years ago — the “horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers in New York,” the related attack in Washington, D.C. and the unsuccessful attack ending in a farm field in Pennsylvania — “shattered a sense of security for the American people and cause heartbreak for the families of the victims of this attack.”
Like the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor, Schatz said Sept. 11 was a “day of infamy,” just as President Franklin Roosevelt had described the Pearl Harbor attack.
“I believe these words ring loud and clear about this unprovoked attack on the Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001,” Schatz said.
“This was not a military installation, these were unarmed men women and children going about their daily routines. Our hearts continue to go out to the families that lost their loved ones,” he said. In the aftermath of the attacks, America’s soldiers have gone out to defend their “great nation,” and Schatz said “we must be mindful that many of these troops, both men and women, were children at the time of the attacks. I am extremely proud and grateful of what this generation of warriors has done and continues to do,” he said. “To this day they are still in harm’s way, and we pray for their safe return.”
Jack St. Jean told of his 15 days working with a military emergency response medical team at Ground Zero in New York and of the people he met there that continue to impress him to this day. Spinks, a retired member of the Rhode Island National Guard,
read a poem relating what the victims of the attacks might say to their families today. State Sen. Marc Cote (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield) said he was “honored and privileged” to participate and wished to express the Senate’s “thanks to the veterans that organized this event and helped remember the people who lost their lives on 9-11. State Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) said on behalf of local Reps. Steve Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket) and Robert Phillips (D-Dist. 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland) that “this is an important honor for us. We respect and honor and appreciate the service of all the men and women and from our community and from outside our community,” she said.
Twelve years after the tragedy of 9-11, City Council President John F. Ward said he could almost “look with pride that we have taken the time to give proper recognition and memorialize those people who gave their lives, the people who were innocently on those flights that lost their lives, the people working in the buildings, the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the heroes who walked into the buildings and never came out, and the heroes on Flight 94 that made sure that jet was never used as a weapon against another building important to our nation.”
Capt. Steven Reilly spoke on behalf of local firefighters while remembering “and memorializing those who lost their lives in the 9-11 tragedy. “We want to keep our thoughts and prayers with all families of those that have passed on and we can never forget 9-11,” he said.
Police Chief Thomas Carey offered that 9-11 showed how “vulnerable this country is,” and noted that the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon showed that fact again last spring. “It shows us that we all have to be vigilant to prevent these acts of terrorism whether it is from an external source or an internal source, and that’s what we try to do here at the Police Department,” Carey said.
One of the local veterans suffering through the exceptional heat of the September afternoon, Roger Petit, said he felt compelled to attend because of the significance of ceremony. “It is a rare opportunity to continue to remember the tragedy that occurred,” he said. Petit said he wished an even larger crowd could have attended the event but noted “for the people who are here, it will be a memorable event.”
The heat did take its toll on the crowd by the end of the ceremony, forcing some of the participants to head to air-conditioned cars for relief. Petit himself suffered heat exhaustion and was assisted at the scene by city rescue personnel.
Fontaine said that despite the less than favorable weather, he believed the ceremony was a fitting acknowledgement of the impact 9-11 has had on the nation.
“I think it was a very nice tribute to the victims and I am appreciative of the veteran groups that came together to make this happen so our community can continue to remember such an important day,” Fontaine said.