Memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that claimed 2,977 lives seemed especially raw Tuesday at the Tribute to Heroes remembrance with several speakers noting that the death and destruction did not end 17 years ago.
Nearly 10,000 first responders and others who were exposed to the toxic fallout from the World Trade Center towers have been diagnosed with cancer, a far greater incidence than among the general population, said Edward Cleveland, retired chief of West Manatee Fire Rescue.
Since the attacks, 1,700 first responders have died from 9/11-contracted diseases, Cleveland said during the observance at the Riverwalk Emergency Services Memorial.
The death toll of those who died after the attack may soon exceed the number killed in the attacks, Cleveland said.
Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler called Sept. 11 the day “that evil tried, and failed, to defeat our nation.”
As a result, emergency response has evolved to be more effective today than ever before, he said.
“Recent events across the globe remind us that we are still in danger. The legacy of 9/11 keeps us vigilant,” Tyler said. “It’s a legacy of heroes, extreme bravery and selfless sacrifice.”
Denise Evers, a 911 operator and nurse, called her husband, retired New York City firefighter Richy Evers, one of the greatest men on earth. Even though he was already retired on Sept. 11, 2001, Richy Evers reported to Fire Station 2 in New York, ready for duty.
That night he called his wife with solemn news. Fifteen firefighters from his company had died in the World Trade Center attacks.
“This service today has more meaning to more people than most of you will realize. It is healing,” Denise Evers said. “There are deaths to come and they will outnumber the original 3,000 deaths of that day.”
Aaron White, the 2018 Florida EMT of the Year, said that it was the attacks of 9/11 that inspired him to become a first responder.
White was at Blake Medical Center as his wife was giving birth to their son, Deandre, as the north tower of the World Trade Center was falling.
“Let us remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice,” White said. “Value every moment of life. Take nothing for granted.”
Then, on a day of dark remembrance of innocent lives lost and heroism, White introduced his son Deandre, who is planning to join the military. The crowd joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to the 17-year-old.
Bob Mikulski, training officer for East Manatee Fire District, read the names of members of the Manatee County firefighting community who have passed away in the past year. They included former East Manatee fire commissioner James Malee, retired East Manatee firefighter Edward Wadlinger, and retired Cedar Hammock firefighter John Layden.
Mikulski also remembered Brian Reed, a West Manatee firefighter who died in the line of duty in April of 2001.
An often repeated refrain during the observance was “never forget.”
Tuesday’s remembrance closed with a volley salute by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office, a release of doves, and the playing of taps and “Amazing Grace.”