Gratitude, honor, resilience shine at 9/11 remembrance in Lehigh Valley (PHOTOS)


Jets passed every so often Saturday morning, directly overhead and high above two massive flags suspended from aerial ladder trucks outside Good Will Fire Co. No. 1 in Trexlertown.

The sky was that same pristine blue as 20 years ago to the moment on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It’s good to hear a plane go over today,” said Lower Macungie Fire Department Capt. Jonathan Kayes, “because that day, there were no planes in the sky.”

Good Will, on Hamilton Boulevard just off Route 100, was hosting a community remembrance of those who were lost, but also a recognition of the American spirit that was regained in the days and weeks that followed the attacks.

The ceremony started at 8:40 a.m., just six minutes prior to the time that — 20 years ago — hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into 1 World Trade Center, the North Tower, in Manhattan.

U.S. airspace would be closed at 12:16 p.m., as the shock set in that the first crash was no accident, and was followed by United Airlines Flight 175 bursting into the South Tower, American Airlines Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and United Flight 93 being brought down by a passenger uprising in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“Thank you for being here with us today to remember the 2,977 people who died on that day,” Dennis McArdle, Good Will’s fire marshal and vice president, said Saturday. “Twenty years gone, but not forgotten. May they rest in peace, and may God bless America.”

Amid the smell of the rubber of firetruck tires, with the rising morning sun beating down on the heads of those gathered, the sounds of remembrance rang out. There were the mournful tolls of a firehouse bell, bagpipers playing first “America the Beautiful” then later “Amazing Grace,” somber words and patriotic tunes sung a cappella by Good Will firefighter Steve Oplinger at the lectern set up for the occasion.

And overhead, the drone of jets.

There was also the clanging of recycling being collected along Hamilton Boulevard, a sign of normalcy, like the routines many Americans awoke to before the terror of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Very few paid attention to or likely even noticed the jet flying just above the world-famous skyline, headed south towards what is known as the Battery and ultimately the twin towers of the World Trade Center,” said Good Will Fire Chief Gary Mattox.

He recalled New York City Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeiffer on a routine call early that morning for a gas leak, joined on a ride-along by filmmaker Jules Naudet. At 8:46 a.m. they did notice a plane flying too low and very fast overhead.

“Naudet followed it with his camera — capturing the only footage of American Airlines Flight 11 smashing into the North Tower,” Mattox said. “That was the moment things became anything but normal.”

Kayes, from Lower Macungie’s fire department, remembered watching on TV as the attacks unfolded and wondering how the people could be saved on the upper floors, and how the fires could be put out.

The questions grew exponentially more dire as it became clear what was happening.

“That was the first and only time in my life I didn’t feel safe in my country,” he said.

Scenes of unspeakable loss, of choked air, gradually gave way to signs of resilience, as first responders made their way to New York to help sort through the rubble. The words of passenger Todd Beamer aboard Flight 93 became known to the world: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!”

“The images of fear and insecurity were starting to be taken over on the news outlets by images of patriotism, bravery, community, neighbors helping each other, strangers helping each other, first responders getting thanked for what they do every single day,” Kayes said.

The story of 9/11 didn’t end that day, those gathered Saturday were told, and it’s up to all of us to keep the memories of those lost alive and to tell future generations about what happened.

“9/11 forever changed our nation, but not in the way the terrorists had hoped,” said state Rep. Ryan MacKenzie, R-Berks/Lehigh. “America remains the symbol of freedom, democracy and liberty throughout the world.”

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Kurt Bresswein may be reached at

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