Herculaneum Fire Department 9/11 Ten Year Memorial Observance

Rural Jefferson County, Herculaneum, Missouri

Chief Haggard of the Herculaneum Fire Department worked hard to present a high quality Memorial Observance for the victims of  September 11, 2001. The level of dedication of all the participants shone through with the attention to detail they applied to this event.

An impressive greeting of a large American flag was suspended overhead from an extended ladder of a Festus fire truck and seemed to offer a blanket of protection to those seated beneath. A Fire and Rescue truck from Lincoln County Fire Protection District and an ambulance from Joachim-Plattin Emergency Medical Services and their members joined the honor ceremony. Chairs were supplied by the Crystal City Fire Department.

Ever-Watchful Flag of our Country

The color theme throughout was red, white and blue. The podium was tastefully draped in white with color accents. Fire trucks, lines of chairs, the podium and the viewing screen were outdoors.


Symbolically, within the protection of the building were fifty photographs encased in heavy plastic purchased from the Lakeville, Minnesota Fire Department; representing fifty of the 343 firefighters who died that day. Monies from this purchase will benefit a scholarship fund for firefighters and first responders. The pictures sat upon three-tiered styrofoam platforms, constructed with loving hands. A small battery-operated tea light was placed behind each, adding a respectful glow. But the creators of this loving display didn’t think that was enough. Each platform was painted – one red, one white and one blue.

Fifty Pictures of the Fallen 343 Heroes

It was a 7pm start on a pleasant evening under a clear sky with a full moon rising behind the speakers.

Chief Bill Haggard of the Herculaneum Fire Department opened the ceremony with the Presentation of Colors by the Herculaneum Fire Department Color Guard. Shannon Coaley sang the Star Spangled Banner with a professional and strikingly beautiful voice and the flags were placed in their stands beside the podium. Firefighters Colby Dorlac and Kevin Perry then placed the traditional honor Wreath and saluted. Assistant Chief Baker announced a Day of Service and Remembrance Proclamation. Chief Haggard introduced a call for prayer from Pastor Rick Pirtle of Journey Community Church. Deep and touching remarks were expressed and reminded us of our duty to others.

Shannon Coaley singing the Star Spangled Banner

Firefighter Sarah Baker read a gripping poem, “Towers of Life”.

Ron Harder, P.I.E.R. (Public Information Education and Relations) Officer of Rock Community Fire Protection District gave the Memorial Address. It was a very moving account of events, sacrifice and challenge and spoken from his heart. He recalled he was a firefighter with the Lemay Fire Department on that morning ten years ago. He and his fellow firefighters shared those horrible days as men, as firefighters and as Americans.

Ron Harder, P.I.E.R. Officer, Memorial Address

Ryan Nichol honored us with his remembrances of that day. He was assigned to a VIP unit and piloted UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. His job on a daily basis was to ferry congressman and others, including the highest generals, around the Washington, D. C. area. He made a flight to Maryland and was to head back to the Pentagon when air traffic was grounded. It was discovered later that the front wheel of the American Airlines airplane that hit the Pentagon was just sixteen feet off the helipad. Ryan would have been there and would have been a name in the rolls of the honored dead. His voice quavered slightly when he began the rest of his story. Over the next three days, he clocked sixteen flight hours to three crash sites. He saw the bodies of firefighters, and saw things “no twenty-one year old should ever see.” From the USS Enterprise, he ferried goods and foods into New York City. Those supplies were loaded onto fire trucks and hauled into the city. On September 12, he flew into Shanksville, Pennsylvania. His voice again cracked as he described the airplane had exploded into a lake. The entire lake – the entire lake, he repeated – had to be drained to recover body parts. Ryan then said, “I thank my God that I am still here and witnessed my now ten year old daughter grow up. I thank you and it’s an honor to be a part of this ceremony.” As he left the podium and long after he disappeared, we thanked him with a standing ovation.

On the large screen we watched a DVD video created by Captain Kevin Baker describing the terrorist act of war committed against this country. Words cannot describe the images we saw of firefighters standing in the lobby of the second tower when the building began to collapse; the looks on their alert, astounded and powerless faces as their eyes searched upwards, reacting to a deafening, roaring sound – then, ensuing dust and darkness – are unforgettable. The cameraman survived at least for a time, for as the main cloud of dust settled, but still in grey-darkness, he raised his camera to see bare, fingers of structural steel jutting upward where before was a sunny, open lobby area. Someone outside in the street had been filming the building as it began to implode. He turned to run, but the choking grey cloud overtook him. He said, “I feel like I have been hit on the back by something” and he fell to the ground, camera still running. Particles of black spotted the grey, then an eerie red tint overcame the grey, then a darker red and the sounds from the throat of the man as he was consumed by solid blackness. The day had turned night.

Interspersed in the DVD was the picture and name of every one of the fallen 343 firefighters. The film ending was voice overwritten by a sweet female child’s voice, saying,

“I started kindergarten today, Daddy.”

“I carry a picture of us in my lunchbox.”

“Can you see me?”

“I can swim now – I can even open my eyes underwater.”

“I miss how you used to tickle me.”

“I try not to cry.”

“Mommy says that is okay.”

“I sleep with the light on just in case you come home.”

“I love you so much.”

“I miss you, Daddy.”

The opportunity to see that film was a gift to the attendees who sat in silence and gave intense attention before their applause at the end of this great production.

At this time, Firefighter Sarah Baker read a poem “We Shall Never Forget” before she lit the candles on the podium 3 – 4 – 3. She then lit the first candle at the end of each row of the audience who passed the flame on to the next candle.

Flickering Candlelight Memorial

We sat in silence, each with our own thoughts, as the Memorial Bell was rung.

Shannon Coaley reappeared and spoke with a sincere voice, feelings overflowing. In essence, she said how she goes about her daily life, taking life and her community firefighters for granted, that she doesn’t say thanks as she should. She took this opportunity to thank the firefighters for their daily sacrifices. Then she played Amazing Grace on her saxophone and did a really marvelous job of it.

A meaningful, closing prayer was given by Pastor Rick Pirtle and closing remarks by Chief Haggard. Shannon Coaley then led all of us in singing God Bless America as we held our flickering candles in the now darkness of night.

After the ceremony, people gathered in the firehouse to view the memorabilia, visit with others including the local police and eat red, white and blue decorated cupcakes. The attention to detail, the dedication and deep sincere love of these men and their work, speaks louder than words. Yet when they were complimented, they acted humble and shy and discounted their efforts with a wave of the hand. These are men of honor and it was my honor to be among them that night.

May they be protected in all their endeavors and rewarded with safety and peace.

Rose Placed in Memory and Respect

A last note:  7.5 tons of steel from ground zero is now part of the USS NEW YORK.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 15:40:20

    Your writing gives me a clear and concise picture of what that memorial was like. It brought tears to my eyes, as most stories of 9/11 do. Thank you for not letting us forget the heroism and selflessness of those who fought to help others that terrible day.


    • annettecrey
      Sep 20, 2011 @ 17:26:47

      Sweetie, Thank you for participating in the Memorial Observance by reading the coverage of it. It was a beautiful setting, sitting in the cool of a September evening, out in the country, mature trees, darkness and the Mississippi just over the hill – no traffic sounds, no clouds, a perfect white moon – a gentle breeze wafted through – sort of caressing me. Such a contrast to the conditions faced by our warriors on that day. We must preserve the freedoms of those gentle evenings by, perhaps, being called upon to be the hero one day. Freedom comes with a price. Anything of value costs us something. Smile for the great goodness of our country and enjoy those nights with your daughter. =)


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