By Jim Newell
The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks had a profound impact on the nation, an event so engrained in the American psyche it’s one of those days where everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.
It also brought to the forefront like never before the dangers that first responders face when rushing toward a tragedy.
Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11, including 343 firefighters, 37 Port Authority Police Officers and 15 EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians). Patriot Day is held in memory of those who died during terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania
Robert Smith, retired Orion Twp. fire chief, wants to make sure that everyone remembers that day and the sacrifices that were made.
A Patriot Day ceremony begins at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Orion Veterans Memorial, 312 S. Broadway St., on the corner of Odanah Street and M-24.
Smith, the event director for the Patriot Day ceremony, said the community has been supportive (“Everybody who comes pays their respects”) of the event over the years, but attendance has dwindled recently.
About 100 people gathered at the Orion Veterans Memorial last year to commemorate the 16th anniversary of attacks, but Smith hopes to exceed that number this year.
“Last year, it was a little sparse. It wasn’t too bad, but I don’t want people to start losing sight of what happened,” Smith said. “Come on out. The ceremony is only an hour or so. Let’s pay tribute and thank the first responders for what they do.”
Also, on display at the ceremony will be a steel I-beam from Ground Zero at the site of the World Trade Center.
“I still see people before and after the ceremony going over and touching it, saying a silent prayer, just thinking about it. I still see people tear up over that. It’s fresh in some people’s minds; but we need to bring the next generation up to be reminded.
“There’s two reasons to hold the ceremony every year: one, were trying to keep honoring those people who passed away that day, and also to keep it in everyone’s mind,” Smith said. “Anyone under the age of 17-18, they don’t know it other than what they read in history books or what we talk about. So, I don’t ever want it to not be an important event.”
First Responders from the Lake Orion Police Dept., the Orion Township Fire Dept., the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, the Oxford Fire Dept. and area paramedics will attend.
B.J. Stapp of the Oxford Fire Dept. will join Orion Twp. Firefighter Brian Hearns and Frank Lenz of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office in leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
The ceremony features musical performances and guest speakers.
U.S. Marine Corps. veteran Brian Birney is the keynote speaker this year. Birney, an Orion Twp. trustee and business owner, served during Operation Enduring Freedom and earned a Marine of the Quarter recognition for exceptional performance on duty while deployed.
Patriot Week co-founder Leah Warren will make special opening remarks at the ceremony. Warren is currently a sophomore at Wayne State University and is a board member of the Patriot Week foundation.
“Phenomenal young lady, phenomenal you lady. I’ve had her speak the last three years. What I like is that she’s giving the perspective of a young person,” Smith said, adding attendees are always moved by Warren’s words.
While the Patriot Day ceremony is to remember those first responders lost on 9/11, Smith points out that many more have died since then. “This ceremony is to pay tribute to that day…but we’re still losing an unusual number of first responders every year. And all they’re out there doing is their job,” he said.
“In Orion, we have not had any line of duty deaths since I’ve been with the department, and I joined in 1986,” Smith said. “But obviously we know of line of duty deaths (across America) every day.
“Seventeen years ago, everybody had their flag on their front porch. There was a complete embracement of people coming together to show their support and patriotism,” Smith said. “We still need that today.”