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An American flag is flown near Gainesville Fire-Rescue Station No. 3 on Tuesday ahead of ceremonies on Patriot Day, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Terrorist attacks shook the nation 18 years ago Sept. 11, leaving an impression on many to never forget the nearly 3,000 lives lost on a day now observed as Patriot Day.

Cooke County Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Fletcher said area first responders are hosting a 9/11 remembrance ceremony at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, by the flags on the northwest corner of the Cooke County Courthouse lawn in downtown Gainesville. The event is open to the public.

Men linked to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden hijacked four commercial airplanes bound for west coast destinations Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. A total of 2,977 people were killed in New York City, Washington, D.C. and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The deadliest of the attacks occurred when planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in NYC, where 2,753 died. Of those who died in the initial attacks and subsequent collapses of the north and south WTC towers, 343 were New York City firefighters, 23 were New York City police officers and 37 were officers at the Port Authority, according to reports.

Gainesville Fire Chief Wayne Twiner said he was a rookie GF-R firefighter on C shift that morning.

“It was right after shift change so the off-going shift was still hanging around visiting with us,” Twiner recalled. “I can remember sitting there listening to the officers pass on information from the previous day when somebody said ‘a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.’ We all gathered around the TV, watching and trying to figure out how that happened. Then around 15-20 minutes later we watched the second plane hit the other tower.”

Twiner said he felt completely helpless watching the events unfold.

“As we watched and prayed that morning we knew when the towers fell that innocent lives of civilians and first responders were killed and trapped,” he said. “That’s a tough thing to watch.”

Twiner said it was a dismal day not only around the firehouse but also in the city with “so much confusion and uncertainty.”

“Our nation was dealt a heavy blow,” he said. “I can remember the next morning the images being shown of three firefighters raising the flag at Ground Zero. As a nation, I think that gave us hope and showed our resiliency.”

Gainesville Police Chief Kevin Phillips said he, too, remembers the attacks on 9/11 and will never forget them. At the time, he was a corporal with the Gainesville Police Department, he said.

“I had just arrived at work and I joined other officers in the squad room as we learned of the attacks,” Phillips said. “It was very somber as we watched the attacks unfold through the morning. 2,977 innocent people died during the attacks, including 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers.”

He said the “tragic day” would mark the single greatest loss of life for both police and fire services.

“These first responders were true heroes in every sense of the word, rushing toward the danger as they tried to save civilians from the burning buildings,” Phillips said. “I would ask that everyone join me in a moment of silent prayer for those that were lost, their families and friends and those that continue to selflessly serve communities throughout this nation on a daily basis.”

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