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Wednesday, 13 September 2017 06:39

Memories of 9/11 still ‘vivid’ 16 years later

Written by  Cassie Fambro
A ceremonial wreath laying was part of the Cornelius event commemorating the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A ceremonial wreath laying was part of the Cornelius event commemorating the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Cassie Fambro

CORNELIUS, N.C. --

Shortly after 8:30 a.m. Monday, Cornelius firefighters and retired New York firefighters gathered with residents and city officials at the Cornelius-Lemley Fire and Rescue Station.

Standing tall in front of the station is a memorial dedicated to those lost on Sept. 11, 2001 —  a monument symbolizing the two towers of the World Trade Center with the words “never forget” carved in multiple languages. In the middle is a beam from one of the towers that were struck by plane-hijacking terrorists that day, killing more than 2,600 people.

When the clock struck 8:46, firefighters rang the bell, the exact moment the first plane struck the North Tower. Dozens of people stood in silence, reflecting on that day.

“I think as a country, we can never forget, this is in comparison to Pearl Harbor,” said Capt. William Butler, retired from the New York Fire Dept. “We cannot forget all of the people lost on 9-11.”

One Cornelius resident was a bond broker that day, working in the twin towers in New York City. He remembers the morning vividly, as if it happened in slow motion. Steve Giordano was on the 25th floor when the jet struck the building, floors above him. It took him 45 minutes to escape, as thousands funneled into the stairways in the towers.

“The visions are vivid, like they happened yesterday,” Giordano said, adding that he still has nightmares about what happened, especially remembering people jumping out of windows. “It wakes me up in the middle of the night.”

But he doesn’t let those memories hurt him. In fact, they were the catalyst to change his life.

“I was given a second chance,” he said.

He moved to Cornelius seven years ago, re-prioritizing family over the frantic pace of city life.

“I have learned to count your blessings and be thankful for what you have, and live every day to the fullest,” He said, saying his mission now, beyond raising his four children, is to spread his message of hope.

“We can’t bring everybody back,” he says, “but we can react better and be more compassionate to each other, kinder to each other.” He says the present division in the country shows the need for more unity, and he encourages people to remember the “golden rule,” to “treat people like you want to be treated.”

He is sometimes asked to speak about that day, and he doesn’t hold back, if people ask what it was really like. Giordano said that one moment that sticks out was when he was running from the towers at full-speed, and realizing the carnage and death around him, he froze.

“I will never forget that,” he said.

At 9:03 Monday morning in Cornelius, firefighters rang the bell again, the moment 16 years ago when the second tower was struck, again bowing their heads, reflecting on the lives lost. And it rang again, at 9:37, when the Pentagon was hit; at 9:59, when the first tower collapsed; at 10:03, when United Airlines flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania; and at 10:28, when the second tower collapsed.

A solemn bell, echoing on a grey day in Cornelius. Sixteen years after tragedy struck a nation, near a steel beam salvaged from the rubble. And there to bear witness, a man who made it out, remembering those who did not.

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