Paul Rodriguez

Cleburne Fire Department Lt. Paul Rodriguez prays during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony on Wednesday.

It’s been 18 years since two hijacked passenger jets flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the start of a series of coordinated attacks against the United States by the terrorist group al-Qaida on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day and thousands more were injured. In the years since, the number of people who have developed 9/11-related illnesses, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, continues to climb.

In commemoration of the 18th anniversary, several local agencies and nonprofit organizations gathered together Wednesday for a ceremony at Yellow Jacket Stadium.

Following an invocation led by Ron Shultz, who serves as American Legion 6th District chaplain, CFD’s pipe and drum band posted the colors.

CFD Batallion Chief Alan Connell said like many firefighters, he was working a second job on Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard the news.

“When they reported the towers had collapse, I remember the sick feeling I had knowing the first responders would be running in,” he said. “I knew the loss of life would be huge, and sadly we all know it was.

“I soon realized the date was 9/11. The organization targeted not only my fellow Americans, they took a shot at the ones that’d be going in to give aid to the fallen. It felt like insult to injury. I’ll admit, if it was even possible, I got even more upset at the time.”

On display in the parking lot on Wednesday was a piece of twisted steel that Cleburne firefighters brought back from the World Trade Center in New York.

“This is from Ground Zero,” Connell said. “It is on display at different occasions here in our little town. I want to make it clear that it serves as a reminder; it is not a souvenir. It is a reminder of not only what did happen, but what can happen again. I said again and I mean that, if we as Americans don’t stay alert and be prepared for it.”

Johnson County Sheriff Adam King encouraged guests to take a moment to reflect on those whose lives have changed as a result of the 9/11 attacks when they looked at the twisted steel on display.

“I want to point out what this beam to me,” he said. “It’s about remembering the almost 3,000 people that died in just a few minutes. It’s about remembering those in the Pentagon, those on the ground, those on the airplanes. A lot of people died during the initial action.

“Left behind was a lot of families. Not only do we need to remember, but we need to pray. Those who are gone, they are already in God’s hands. We need to pray for the ones that were left behind. The families left with huge voids. They are missing fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and so on. That is not a scar that will ever heal.”

Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said Wednesday was a day to resolve to remember that America is an exceptional nation.

“Today is a day of resolve that we don’t forget,” he said. “We don’t forget the patriots whose lives were lost along the way. 

“On this day 18 years ago, thousands of our fellow citizens lost their lives by simply showing up for work and being part of the American dream. And today we say we resolve to not forget each one of them and the families who will carry on.

“We also don’t forget the men and women who rushed into those towers when others were rushing out to save lives, to ultimately give their lives for citizens of many of whom they didn’t know. 

“We resolve to remember, pray for and support the members of our armed services who are taking the fight to the very terrorists who harmed us 18 years ago. We resolve to never forget those who lost their lives in that war and those who remain on the battlefield today, as well as their families.”

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