Juneau’s annual Patriots’ Day ceremony is at the 9-11 Memorial in Rotary Park in the Mendenhall Valley, built by the Juneau-Glacier Valley Rotary Club.
Past President Tim McLeod explained the shape of the memorial, designed by Brent Fischer of Juneau.
“The design of this memorial is a broken pentagon, representing the Pentagon building. Each side measures four feet in length, representing the four lost airplanes. The two missing sides represent the twin towers of the World Trade Center,” McLeod said. “The memorial is constructed with concrete and Pennsylvania marble to represent the strength found in our heroes. The Forget Me Not flowers symbolize the rebirth of patriotism and our promise never to forget. The flag represents the unity of our nation. The head of the memorial pentagon is aligned with the North Star, a symbol of all Alaskans.”
Most of those attending the ceremony remember that day well, as we watched the horror from our television sets. It wasn’t long before Alaskans mobilized and sent National Guardsmen, police and firefighters, chaplains, and others to New York City, where the cleanup would go on for months.
Destiny Sargeant, a psychologist in Juneau, was in the crowd at the memorial. She was one of five Southeast Alaskans who went to the site and worked primarily with the New York Police Department.
“It has defined the remainder of my life since that day,” she said.
Two recent recruits to Juneau public safety organizations were just kids 11 years ago. Officer Patrick Vaughn has been with the Juneau Police Department about a year.
“When 9-11 happened, I was just 14 years old. I remember going downstairs from my room after just waking up to get ready for school. My mother was frozen in front of the television in the living room, fixated on the horror,” he recalled.
The next day, Vaughn said, he wrote a poem. He read a small excerpt:
“Truly not an act of any good man, truly evil, mad, crazy and unsound. Men with these intentions do not want anything but for their name to be remembered. But today I choose to remember and celebrate only the brave men and women who sacrificed themselves to save others.”
Then he spoke to his colleagues on the police force and Capital City Fire and Rescue: “Please celebrate their sacrifice and treasure their legacy by continuing to serve your community as you always have, with love, compassion, zeal and integrity,” he said. “If you’re a guest here today, take a moment to thanks those around you who put you first, who guard you while you sleep, and will always be there for you when you need them. Never forget.”
Eighteen year-old James Gilchrest is a freshman at the University of Alaska Southeast and a new firefighter with Capital City Fire and Rescue.
“I was in second grade when America was changed. I remember sitting next to my best friend trying to comprehend what was on the TV screen,” he said. “Since I’ve taken the steps into the life of a firefighter my eyes have been opened wider. It has helped me to understand how much dedication and boldness it takes to put your life at risk to save another. The men and women that gave their lives that day not only motivate me, they have a place in my heart that will last forever.”