Crowds gathered at the Fire District #1 Station on Airline Highway to honor those lost in one of the deadliest attacks in U.S. history. Sixteen years later, it's still a painful memory to many. Fire Chief James LeBlanc led the ceremony to pay homage to the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.
The atmosphere was light in what became a celebration of life, service, and sacrifice, rather than a somber moment of grief and loss. It was a day to honor not only the 343 New York fire fighters who died that day, but also to celebrate the selfless service of all first responders, who continue to serve in memory of their fallen brothers.
LeBlanc said even though the firefighters got knocked down that day, they never stopped fighting for their community and taking care of residents. He noted the firemen lost on 9/11 outnumber his entire force.
"We're never going to forget how heroic they were to go up those two towers and to continue fighting and taking care of their community," LeBlanc said, "and we want them to know all the way down here in Louisiana that we still care for 'em and love 'em and want 'em to keep fighting."
LeBlanc added that those tragic events brought the community of first responders together around the country. He said the love we have from the Bayou State all the way to New York for all emergency response personnel can never be broken.
"If the terrorists thought they were going to knock us down, all it did was make us stronger," LeBlanc said.
Sheriff Jeff Wiley said everybody knows where they were the day the Twin Towers fell. He remembers thinking it must have been a mistake when the first plane struck, before coming to the devastating realization that the country was under attack.
"Watching all the horror, all the death, and all of the valor, and amazing bravery and courage of the citizens and first responders," Wiley said, "many of those firefighters suited up, carrying that gear, going towards what is clearly harm's way, and many of them had to know the likelihood of returning was slim."
Wiley spoke in awe of the bravery of the men and women who went in after their brothers and sisters, knowing full well they could meet the same fate. He said they kept coming and kept saving, climbing the steps of the 110-story building, and risking their own lives to save others.
Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said watching the tragic events unfold that morning is the most tragic thing he can recall. He expressed his pride in the parish's first responders for keeping the memory of the fallen alive.
The Ascension Funeral Home dedicated an American flag to a local organization during the annual event. This year the Gonzales Police Department was the recipient, and Chief Sherman Jackson was on hand to accept the Stars and Stripes from Deidra Cole, who presented the department with the flag. The goal is to one day have a commemorative flag at all the local fire and police stations.
A similar ceremony took place just up the road in Prairieville at Fire District #3. The first annual memorial was a tremendous success with heartfelt comments from guest speaker Dennis O'Connell, a retired New York police officer who was at Ground Zero that fateful day. A piece of steel from one of the towers even sits on display in the administration building on site.
With law enforcement, elected official, residents, and first responders on hand, it's clear that even 16 years later, we will never forget.