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More than 800 residents, community leaders, elected officials and civil servants gathered and marched in downtown San Jose today to mark the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The commemorative mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph at 80 S. Market St. was so crowded that many had to stand outside the cathedral doorways and strain to catch a glimpse inside. After Bishop Patrick McGrath exited the church doors, a procession of police, firefighters and emergency responders dressed in formal attire led the crowd down Market Street to San Jose Fire Station 1.
The march was accompanied by bagpipe and percussion players wearing police uniforms with kilts. Firefighters flanked a vintage fire engine while cadets and trainees handed out plastic firefighter hats to children.
The group marched under a large U.S. flag strung between two fire engine ladders. "All over America today we gather to remember one of the darkest days in our nation's history," keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said at the fire station. In front of an audience of dozens of police and firefighters standing at attention, a series of speakers praised their service and committment to protecting their communities. To honor the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in New York City on Sept. 11, a pair of boots, each bearing one of their names, was placed in front of the lectern.
"They charged into a holocaust," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cortese. "These events cause us all today to think of the unthinkable," said Fire Chief William McDonald. He said that we must prepare for the worst now that we have seen the consequences of letting our guard down.
"We can't think of what man-made acts are on the minds of those with no regard for human life," he said. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed praised the men and women of the armed services as well, and expressed gratitude for their commitment to protecting U.S. interests overseas.
"Today is a day of great sorrow but also great gratitude," Reed said. Police Chief Chris Moore said that he was most struck by the national unity achieved following the tragedy, a unity he said that he had only heard about from older generations, but never felt for himself. "I hope someday we can feel that pride, but not through a moment of tragedy," he said. Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, and Lofgren each commented on the unity among legislators after Sept. 11.
Campos said there was a "spirit of collaboration in the halls of Congress" and a determination to "seek justice for the victims and their families." Lofgren echoed her sentiments, but expressed remorse that much of that unity in Congress had been lost. She related the story of the night of Sept. 11, 2001, when all of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and spontaneously sang "God Bless America."
"That unity faded in efforts to gain wins and make points," Lofgren said, chastising some members of Congress for legislative efforts to deny medical benefits to Sept. 11 first responders. But, she said, "What has not been lost is a spirit of resiliance and strength." She said the American spirit was "unbowed and unbroken" by the events of Sept. 11.
The fire station bell rang in four groups of five to end the ceremony, a traditional signal that all firefighters could go home for the day. To the tune of mournful bagpipes, the crowd stepped into the decorated firehouse for a reception to laugh, talk, and enjoy each others' company.
Bay City News