The City of Athens hosted its annual Patriot Day Ceremony yesterday as a tribute to Sept. 11, 2001.
Members of the Athens Fire Department (AFD), McMinn County Rescue Squad, Athens Police Department, and Athens city officials gathered for the ceremony, held at the Athens City Municipal Building.
The BlackJack Bagpipers, a local group of bagpipers that are especially dedicated to serve veterans and public service men and women, initiated the ceremony by playing “Going Home.”
Athens City Manager C. Seth Sumner reminded attendees of the timeline of the events on Sept. 11, 2001, and then shared his personal experience that day.
“September 11th, 2011 stays in my memory, much the way I’ve heard previous generations speak of Pearl Harbor. I remember that morning as a sophomore at the University of Tennessee very well and, still, all the emotions that I experienced watching live news coverage as those tragic events unfolded,” said Sumner.
He referenced the notion of “never forget” and remarked that this is the reason for the annual Patriot Day Ceremony.
“Many know my friends Wynn Varble and Darryl Worley’s song, ‘Have You Forgotten,’ and my answer remains a resounding ‘we will not forget’,” he said. “The annual Patriot Day ceremony here at City Hall is our own small way of keeping perspective of the dangers that we and our emergency response personnel face each day and honoring those who succumbed to the heinous terrorist attacks of that September morning.”
Sumner also reminded the crowd that a total of 2,996 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001 — 2,763 at the World Trade Center, 189 at the Pentagon attack, and 44 in the Pennsylvania field.
“We will never forget,” Sumner stated before he called for a moment of silence.
Following the silence, AFD Fire Chief Brandon Ainsworth spoke about the significance of the three bell tolls that AFD Captain Tim Schultz performed afterwards.
“Tolling of the bell has a tradition in the fire service — three rings, three series. Tolling of the bell, the first ring signifies the sound of the alarm, the second ring — preparing of the alarm, and the final ring is the last destination,” said Ainsworth.
AFD Captain Ron Nipper called the firefighters to arms and the ceremony ended with the BlackJack Bagpipers performing “Amazing Grace.”
Afterwards, Sumner commented that the City of Athens has presented a Patriot Day Ceremony for several years, however this was the first year that it was performed to “this level.” Sumner credited Ainsworth with making adjustments and improvements to the 2018 ceremony.
“He put his own touches to the ceremony and we want to make sure we grow this and invite the public to attend this — honoring the civilians and the heroes,” said Sumner. “It was a brief ceremony, but touching — bringing all of the firefighters here and having them all in Class A dress, our police officers, and all of our (McMinn County) Rescue Squad members led by (City of Athens) Mayor Chuck Burris.”
Burris, who went to New York to volunteer shortly after Sept. 11, commented on the importance of the tribute.
“It’s a great ceremony. I was there for days after 9/11 to see if I could help and I helped. Unless you were there, it’s just surreal. It’s something we never want to go through again,” said Burris. “I went to see if I could help and they said absolutely — they needed help. Those fireman, they never left. They stayed there.”
Burris also noted that remembering Sept. 11, 2001 applies to those who perished, but also to the tragedy as a whole.
“The old saying, we kind of take it for granted now — ‘never forget,’ but that’s nationwide. It’s not just about firefighters or police officers, you know, people that lost their lives that day at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania, and in the towers — we don’t ever want to forget those people, but also we never want to forget what happened that day and how it happened,” said Burris.