Candlelight vigil honors 9/11 victims fifteen years later

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Citizens and public officers of Placentia gather to honors the victims of 9/11 (Gretchen Davey / Daily Titan)

A 9/11 Patriot Day memorial and candlelight vigil was held at the Placentia American Legion Sunday night.

Legion members of Unit 277 and Placentia Police Captain Eric Point gave speeches remembering the victims of the 2001 9/11 terror attacks that took 2,977 lives.

“Of that number, 72 law enforcement officers, 343 firefighters and 55 military personnel lost their lives that day. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 caused more law enforcement and firefighter line of duty deaths than any other single incident in American history,” Point said in his speech. “Since 9/11, over 1,400 rescue workers who responded to the scene in the days and months after the attacks have died as a direct result of exposure to Ground Zero.”

Point acknowledged that the purpose of last night’s memorial event was to bring the community together in the face of the tragic event.

“Today, on the fifteenth anniversary of that terrible day, we gather as a community to remember the fallen and to never forget,” Point said. “It’s what, I believe, makes this community so great. We stick together, we support each other and we work as partners to keep Placentia a pleasant place to live and work.”

Placentia Post Commander Richard Ramirez spoke about the unique nature of the attacks that occurred on 9/11.

“We are dealing with an unconventional type of war,” Ramirez said in his speech. “When I think about this memorial event, first and foremost we want to recognize those who were victims of this unconventional war. We want to recognize those of our first responders that, regardless of the consequences, went in there and did their job gallantly without any hesitation.”

Traffic Officers Andrew Dean, Frank Garza and Sergeant Joe Connell were recognized for their service to the community.

Legion treasurer and creator of the memorial event Pat Alvarez presented the officers with framed certificates and survival kits for law enforcement officers including “good cop” cups, Lifesavers to remind them of the many times they have been one, Smarties for the wisdom to make split second decisions, Hershey Kisses to show community love for their officers, gum to help everyone stick together, Tootsie Rolls to encourage officers to roll with the punches, York Peppermint Patties to keep their cool, Mounds bars for the mounds of courage they show and Laffy Taffy to remind them that laughter is a great stress reliever.

Approximately 75 people were in attendance at the American Legion this year. The memorial event was held at Placentia City Hall in a previous year. Alvarez noted that the event doubled in size this time around.

“If it gets much bigger than this, we’ll be going back to the city hall,” Alvarez said. “I invite every student (at CSUF) to come (next year).”

Throughout the night, the Placentia Community Chorus performed patriotic songs to set the tone for the ceremony. Songs that were performed included the national anthem, “This is my country,” “God Bless the U.S.A.,” “Amazing Grace” and a patriotic medley that included “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “America the Beautiful,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “God Bless America.”

“For our group, it’s really important to do these functions,” director of the Placentia Community Chorus and former Titan Donna Rodriguez said. “We’re all very patriotic Americans, and we’re patriotic Placentians. For us, this is part of our gift to the community.”

During the candlelight vigil portion of the event, Rodriguez encouraged the crowd to sing along. Legion members, police officers and community members joined together hugging and humming along to the patriotic tunes.

Lauri Preus was among the Placentia community members in attendance. Preus worked in the World Trade Center and on Wall Street prior to the attack, and she knew five people who were killed.

“I think if you grew up in New York, you know somebody who was involved,” Preus said.

Preus described what she experienced in the aftermath of the attacks.

“As soon as the planes started flying again, I went home. When we flew over the towers, they were still smoking, and the sky was just all dark and black,” Preus said. “We took the train into the city, and Wall Street, where I used to work, was filled with military, machine guns and military tanks. It was surreal. The buildings were just black. It looked like the Middle East. It looked like a war zone.”

Preus got chills while recounting her experience and said it was difficult for her to come to the memorial event.

“I said if I don’t come tonight, it isn’t because I don’t care, it’s because it’s too hard,” Preus said. “I’m glad I came, it was a great turnout. This was a great event. I did have a lot of tears though.”

Legion President Rebecca Garcia and her mother Secretary Denise Garcia also had a personal connection to the terrorist attacks. Their uncle and brother worked in between the towers and would stop in the World Trade Center before work every morning. On the day of the attack, he went to work early, saving his life.

“Once we found him, we were grateful, but our hearts were heavy for all of those that we had lost,” Denise Garcia said. “It was a very difficult day. A day I don’t think any of us should forget because there were so many that lost their lives for us, and we need to continue to honor them.”

Placentia Mayor Pro Tem and former Titan Craig Green was also among attendants at the memorial. He expressed his gratitude for law enforcement first responders.

“The public safety people run towards danger instead of away from it and that takes a pretty stiff heart to do that,” Green said.

American Legion Commander John Paine read a poem that was submitted to the legion concerning 9/11. Submissions came from all age groups and walks of life, according to Alvarez. The poem was entitled “Why.”

“Heroes rose out of the ashes to save a life that we thought was lost, never thinking what might happen, never caring what the cost. We didn’t do it for glory, we didn’t do it for fame. They only did it for what they knew was right. They are heroes that have no name,” Paine recited at the height of the poem.

Point reinforced the main point of the event; the importance of remembering the men and women who lost their lives during the terrorist attack.

“I don’t forget where I was when this occurred, and I’ll never forget,” Point said. “In some ways, I think some people are forgetting, and it’s events like this that hopefully keep bringing it to life.”

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