PALMETTO -- The melancholy wail of bagpipes echoed throughout Sutton Park, borne by breezes that rippled the red, white and blue banners staked around the grounds, as well as the flags flying at half staff Tuesday morning.
Under a sprawling tent, a crowd stood at attention, many of them first-responders in dress uniforms.
Just outside stood a large yellow wreath with a ribbon that declared: "NEVER FORGET."
The pointed words stirred poignant memories for attendees at the annual Tribute to Heroes Memorial Service, a commemoration honoring the victims and those who died trying to save them on the horrific morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
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"It's moments like this that bring you back, make you remember the sacrifices," said Capt. Kathy Peel of the Manatee County EMS, one of several speakers Tuesday. "I choose to remember people who dedicated their lives for the betterment of oth
ers and lost their lives that day."
Each of Tuesday's speakers spoke in heartfelt terms about 9/11, how it changed America and its enduring relevance, particularly for first responders and law enforcement throughout Manatee County.
"It's important to keep in our hearts and minds to remember, to give tribute to those who on a daily basis -- military, law enforcement, first responders -- stand up for us and protect us every day," said Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover-Bryant.
Tuesday's event was moved from Rossi Waterfront Park location to Palmetto because of construction along the Riverwalk. Next year, the service likely will be moved back to Bradenton.
"We have to remember this, and as long as I'm mayor we're going to do this," Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said. "This is such a significant date in history. I'm invested in this. We have seven retired New York City firemen living in Bradenton and I'm not about to let them -- or anyone -- down."
The gathering not only remembered the heroes of 9/11, but they marked the passing in 2011 of Commissioner Glenn Davis from the East Manatee Fire Rescue District and retired Fire Commissioner Robert Hutches from the Myakka City Fire District.
Davis was a City of Bradenton firefighter for 27 years and retired as captain. Hutches was a former Manatee County commissioner for 12 years.
"It's important to recognize the fallen from 9/11, but we also want to recognize those who have passed every year since then along with them," said Battalion Chief Rich Losek with West Manatee Fire District.
The message emanating from the solemn ceremony resonated with bystanders, Renee Medina and Theresa Coblentz among them.
They watched their 2-year-old daughters, Delaney and Rebecca, wave small American flags.
Medina's husband, Louis, is a 23-year U.S. Coast Guard veteran and she remembers watching the World Trade Center towers fall on TV.
"Our kids weren't born yet, but we try to instill a sense of pride in the flag," she said. "Our son gets excited every time he hears the national anthem. He understands its importance."
Which echoed what Coblentz shares with her family.
"Basically that we have the freedom to be out like this, to remember what we've overcome as a country and that united we stand," she said. "That's what we're teaching our kids."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix