VENICE — Even before the 9/11 ceremony started Saturday at Patriots Park in Venice, it was obvious people remembered the fateful day 20 years earlier.
Many were wearing hats or shirts that said, “We will never forget.” Many parked cars had American flags on them. Folding chairs featured the letters “USA.”
As people took photos of the steel girder from Word Trade Center Tower II that sits as a monument in the park, people pointed up at the Cessna that was flying overhead from the very airport where two of the 9/11 terrorists had trained.
“I’m sad we have to meet like this,” said Barbara Miller Vaughn, the event’s emcee.
Then she motioned to Patriots Park and the monument.
“But isn’t it great we have a place like this to meet?”
From those in the audience at Saturday’s memorial event to those speaking, the topic of the nation being unified in its reaction to 9/11 was a theme.
“It does unite us as a nation,” said CJ Bannister with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. “We are united. And we need to remain there.”
As she spoke, residents from Tuscan Gardens Senior Living, located across the street from the park, started walking out of their homes. Some were in wheelchairs, others using walkers.
So, too, did Wilberto Acosta, who was a member of the New York City Fire Department when the towers fell. He asked all veterans to stand.
“These are your heroes,” he said emphatically.
Then resident Frank Patti spoke. He saw the towers fall from his home in New York.
“This is the country I swore to defend, and I was helpless,” he said, choking back tears. “The terrorists did not win. They did not achieve their objective.”
As he spoke, a bell signifying 11 a.m. went off, by chance, slowly, chime by chime, in the background, sounding sullen, as if it was tolling for those who had died.
Featured near the heart of the ceremony was a large Venice fire ladder truck, meant to be a reminder of those who saved lives on 9/11. But duty called and near the ceremony’s end, the firefighters loaded on to the truck and raced off to help somebody in need, sirens blaring.
“America the Beautiful” was played. As was taps and “Amazing Grace.” Some people buried their faces. Others cried.
When the ceremony ended, vehicles lined up to merge onto Tamiami Trail. Many vehicles featured names on signs. Those names were of those who had died fighting for their country, fighting for the United States.
Another reminder. They had remembered.