“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” – President George W. Bush.
As those words by a president seeking to calm a nation shocked by the events of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, resound to this day, officials of VFW Veness-Strollo Post 1602 this morning conducted a moving and fitting tribute to the nearly 3,000 lives lost as a result of that horrific terrorist attack on American soil.
The Batavian, as a community service to those unable to attend today's remembrance event, is publishing the text of the speeches given by Assemblyman Steven Hawley, VFW member Max Sernoffsky (who acted as master of ceremonies), Post 1602 Junior Vice Commander John Woodworth Jr. and City Councilman-At-Large Robert Bialkowski.
Another story, featuring Batavia Police Det. Sgt. Matt Lutey and Batavia Fire Lt. Dave Green, will follow.
Assemblyman Steven Hawley
It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Most, if not all of us, remember exactly what we were doing that day … almost as if it were yesterday. Where we were; who we were with and how we felt. Watching the twin towers (of the World Trade Center in New York City) fall changed our lives and our nation forever.
As New Yorkers, we were all particularly affected by the attack close to our own homes. We are forever grateful to our first responders, many of whom still live with the physical and psychological effects of their service during that tragic time.
Their courage can not be understated. Thousands of firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police officers rushed into danger at that scene to save others during the attack – and we will never forget the hundreds of responders who died so that others might live.
After the tragedy of the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01, a sense of unity spread throughout the entire country. American flags blossomed everywhere – on homes and on businesses. Bumper stickers and magnets declaring support for our military were a common sight on highways. And we came together to support those within our communities and beyond.
The American spirit of resilience was on full display, just as it was during our Revolution and during the World Wars. We must always remember that resiliency and never forget that regardless of our personal or political differences, we are united freely and equally as one people under our Constitution.
It is that commitment to our common ideals and the respect for one another that has empowered us to be as strong as we are. The events of the past few weeks have thrust us into a new period, and reminds us – home or abroad – the strength, bravery and skill of our military service members are what stand between freedom and tyranny.
The men and women who fought in Afghanistan should be welcomed home as heroes, and those we lost should be remembered and honored for all history. They fought bravely for a righteous cause. As soldiers return to their families, we must ensure they’re given every resource to make a successful transition back into life at home.
Most of all, they deserve our gratitude and respect.
Max Sernoffsky, VFW Post 1602 member
Three major questions have got my attention while planning this event: who, how and, most importantly, why.
Well, 911 has always been known as a sign of distress. If there is trouble, just call the number and you get help from first responders. So, the question of who. Who are we honoring? Definitely, first responders.
Sept. 11, 2001 was very different. This was a very vicious and malicious attack on all of America through which our World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked. In essence, the heartbeat of America.
On this day all of America responded. America became proud, ready and united. On this day, we honor all Americans who made themselves ready for the call to protect our way of life.
The question of how? It has been said that how we should act is sad and somber. I totally agree what happened 20 years ago was anything but a celebration. Well, America did not die on that day. America came together. Angry and upset, maybe, but definitely united.
As one may say, let a sleeping dog lie, because after this tragedy America did become alive. Every patriotic American volunteered to support the cause of freedom.
The most important question is why? Why are we gathered here today? This is a remembrance event. Remember there are some out there that try to take our freedoms, rights and way of life from us … as American we must always be prepared to protect and defend as we did on that day.
Heroes on Flight 93 were the first to respond. They were American citizens who were very heroic. They stopped the terrorists from reaching their mark in an attempt to destroy America. To those brave American citizens, we just always remember and never forget. Let us honor them by doing what it takes to keep our country free.
Among us today, we have many veterans and first responders. We also have many citizens whose help was instrumental. Several are part of the many organizations that are here to serve. Why? Because they believe in what you're doing for our country.
To our young citizens, I realize you were too little or not even born when this tragic event took place. To you I realize that you are about to embark on a path – whatever you become – doctors, firemen, policemen or even a member of the armed forces. There will be times you feel alone along the way, alienated, tested or even overwhelmed.
Just remember … we always have your back. I encourage you all to stay around after the ceremony and engage first hand with our fellow veterans, supporting organizations and first responders. Ask the questions, gain knowledge, insight and wisdom from them.
(He also thanked the businesses who supported the ceremony).
Today, we remember our firefighters, police force, armed forces and citizens who all stepped forward when they first got the news. These people ran toward the danger – not away from it. Why? Because there were American citizens in those towers.
It is because of that bravery that many lives were saved. They did this knowing full well of the risk that they themselves may never make it back alive. I can’t say this enough. It is Americans like you that make me so proud to be an American.
Please God, always give me the same strength that they had to be ready to face danger and to never turn my back to it. Whenever I think of the many Americans selflessly doing their part, protecting our way of life, it just makes me so thankful and patriotic.
Why do Americans do this? It is because Americans are resilient. They do this because America is worth protecting. As long as we continue to have our brave young Americans protecting our way of life, we will forever be and always will be the greatest nation ever.
Councilmember-At-Large Robert Bialkowski
We certainly live in very troubled times. 20 years (ago), it seems like just an hour ago, the mainland of our country was attacked by our enemies. Please, let’s never, ever forget this day.
Four airliners were hijacked and used for these attacks of terror. American Airlines Flight 11 was crashed into the World Trade Center north tower at 8:46 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 was crashed 17 minutes later into the south tower at 9:03 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. United Airlines Flight 93, heading for target White House or the Capitol building was overtaken by some very brave passengers and crashed in Shanksville, Pa., at 10:03 a.m.
Many of us have had friends, relatives and associates working in these buildings. I, personally, had a relative and other military people I knew that were working in the Pentagon at that time. By the grace of God, they escaped.
The aftermath of this attack was 2,977 fatalities. Over 25,000 people were also injured. Three hundred and forty firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers paid the ultimate sacrifice performing their heroic rescue attempts, and to this day there are thousands of people suffering health issues.
This was a major attack and it all occurred in minutes, and it was well laid out and well planned. These people – al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS and all the other terrorist groups – are our enemies and must be treated as such. They will never be our friends and we must never forget.
It’s an honor to be here today to recognize our local post 1602 and the entire VFW organization for all your unselfish work supporting all our veterans. Since your beginning in 1899 … that’s a long time to be providing services. You provide a home, and when I say home, I’m talking about a community – a community where all veterans are welcome with honor and dignity.
He then was joined by City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. in presenting a proclamation from the City of Batavia recognizing today as “911 Day of Remembrance in the City of Batavia” and encourage citizens to honor the lives of those lost to participation in community service and remembrance ceremonies on this day and throughout this year.
VFW Post 1602 Junior Vice Commander John Woodworth Jr.
I encourage our recruits to understand that the VFW and American Legion is our voice in Washington, D.C. We have to depend on each other, so I highly recommend that you join these organizations to support not just ourselves but our community as well.
My name is John Woodworth Jr. I'm a U.S. Air Force retiree and I continue to serve our great nation as of now, for 31 years.
I would like to speak about September 11th, 2001, as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the events ... and remember all those who lost their lives on that tragic day. To me, September 11th has been the worst attack on the American people and the second worst attack on America’s resolve.
The first, as many may know already, is December 7th, 1941, at the Pearl Harbor Naval Stations. However, but instead of another country waging war on our nation using military force against military force, 19 Islamic extremists committed an unthinkable act of cowardliness against the American people and tested our resolve. These 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners – American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 93.
They used them as weapons of mass destruction on American citizens and citizens from 77 different countries. These weren’t the only victims of 911. We lost 412 of America’s heroes, and I’m referring to our firefighters, police officers and medical personnel who answered the call and gave all save tens of thousands of lives during rescue operations at the World Trade Center.
Which leads me to the other heroes of September 11th – Chief Master Sgt. Troy McIntosh from the Pentagon who rushed into flames three times to help evacuate wounded personnel and Master Sgt. Noel Sepulveda, a career medical technician, who pulled six injured people through windows and set up a triage in the parking lot. And finally, the passengers of Flight 93.
The passengers of Flight 93, after learning the intentions of their hijackers, established a plan to retake their aircraft from these assailants – transforming themselves from victims to heroes. Their sacrifice resulted in safeguarding an unknown number lives at the hijackers’ unknown target – cementing themselves as the first ones to fight terrorism on September 11th, and in my eyes, the biggest heroes of the day.
The actions of our first responders and Flight 93 passengers inspired and strengthened America’s resolve.
I often wonder if Osama Bin Laden felt the same pressure as Japanese World War II Admiral Yamamoto by awakening a sleeping giant. Did Bin Laden recognize true might of America or did he misjudge America’s pursuit of peace as a weakness?
On Sept. 18, 2001, President Bush signed a bill to authorize use of military force. Then on Oct. 7, 2001, U.S. forces began air campaigns against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. For nearly 20 years, the U.S. armed forces kept the fight on enemy soil.
However, the war on terrorism isn’t truly over as we discovered on August 26th, 2021, when 13 American service members lost their lives to a suicide bombing as the United States was withdrawing from Afghanistan to officially end the longest war in American history. (He then mentioned a display inside the VFW set up to honor those 13 service members).
My final words for September 11th are this:
We should never forget the men, women and children whose lives were so tragically on the ground and in the air. We should never forget the sacrifice our first responders and the passengers of Flight 93. As Americans, we need to remain ever vigilant and continue to stand together to stand together against terrorism.
As Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer quoted, “Let’s roll.”
Photos at bottom: U.S. Army personnel observing a moment of silence; Tom Cecere rings the bell at 8:46 a.m. to mark the first strike into the World Trade Center (other bell ringings took place at 9:03, 9:37 and 10:03); playing of taps as VFW honor guard stands at attention. Photos by Mike Pettinella.