Somber Ceremony Marks 9/11

Gage Carmichael

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Photo by: Larry Valenzuela

Jacob McAfee, Fresno City College Fire Academy Director, delivers a opening speech at the Memorial March near the Free Speech Area on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Photo by Larry Valenzuela

Dozens of Fresno City College students, faculty and cadets from the police and fire academies memorialized the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks with speeches and reflections.

“Hard to believe it happened 17 years ago,” said Michael Grahl, a State Center Community College District police officer and former U.S. Marine military police officer. “It seems like it was yesterday.”

The event began with students, cadets and faculty marching from the main fountain, through the campus and ending at the free speech area where the Sept. 11 memorial tree was planted on the 10 year anniversary of the attack.

The march was accompanied by a SCCCD police escort, and marchers walked to the tune of live bagpipes.

Small American flags were planted along the route to the free speech area where the main event was held.

Carole Goldsmith, president of FCC, was among the marchers; she later spoke at the ceremonies.

“[The attacks] were by far the worst loss of life,” Goldsmith said in her speech. “18,000 people are still suffering from the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.”

The audience remained silent throughout.

“For someone who was around during that [the Sept. 11 attacks], they will never forget that moment,” Grahl, a military police for the Marine Corps at the time of the attack said.

“I was getting off of a 17 hour shift, which was pretty normal at the time, and was driving home when the first plane hit,” Grahl said.  “That morning, everything changed for how we operated.”

Grahl described the changes at his base after the attacks. “We went on to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The shifts would go on until base said we could go home.”

Grahl said he felt hopeless.

“It was our job to make sure the people stay safe and that the country stays safe,” he said. “At the moment, we couldn’t do anything.”

Jacob McAfee, director of the fire academy, also spoke on the effect 9/11 had on Americans. “Whether you were a first responder or Wall Street trader, this affected us all,” McAfee said. He was serving in the Marine Corps as a fire crash rescuer  in a base stationed in Arizona. He was getting off a shift, going into the Arizona base to check in his equipment when the planes struck.

“I remember getting off my shift and seeing the attacks […] me and the 13 other firefighters were just glued to the TV,” McAfee said.

As the speakers finished their presentations, an audio recording was played of the first responders in New York at the time of the terrorist attack.

“Get every unit you got over here now!” rang out the audio recording.

Maile Martin, head coordinator of the 17-year anniversary event, and Valerie Diponto, who led the 10 year anniversary event, shared their memories of what they felt and witnessed as the attacks were broadcast.

Diponto, who had just started work at FCC just the day before the attacks, said, “I got a call from my husband saying, ‘honey, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center’.”

Diponto says that she remembers she and her co workers all huddled around a small, portable TV, watching the broadcast in silent shock.

“It was 9 a.m. and I was getting ready for work. My kids were still home at the time,” Martin said. “As the news was being reported, I just watched and held my kids, frozen.”

Jose Flores, chief of the SCCCD police, gave a personal statement of his memories of the attack. “I was at home preparing for a conference,” Flores said. “I knew from my experience in law enforcement, this wasn’t some random plane crash or accident.”

Another individual on campus who had a personal connection to the attack was Brandon Bascon, music instructor.

Bascom was serving as a missionary for the Church of Latter-Day Saints and stationed in New York. He left New York three months before the attack. “Watching the news every night, and not being able to help the people I served for two years was heart wrenching,” he said.

Many of the speakers and faculty expressed admiration for the crowd for being part in the anniversary. Grahl said, “Showing up means a lot to the guys here and the guys who’ve passed.”

Goldsmith echoes, “We will never forget those first responders valor.”

McAfee said, “This is the day we bonded together for one common goal.”

“These acts shattered steel,” McAfee said, quoting former president George W. Bush, “but did not shatter the American Spirit.”