MERIDEN — Twenty years ago, Nicholas Sherwood was in the Connecticut National Guard and in between assignments, when he learned that commercial airliners had struck the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Sherwood, now deputy chief of the Meriden Police Department, recalled the chaos, horror and tragedy that would unfold on Sept. 11, 2001.
Ultimately, 2,977 lives were lost that day, when the airliners, hijacked by terrorists, struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers and crew attempted to regain control of the plane from hijackers.
Like Sherwood, Mayor Kevin Scarpati remembers vividly where he was when the attacks occurred. Scarparti was a seventh grade student at Lincoln Middle School in Spanish class when he and his classmates received news that commercial airliners had struck the World Trade Center towers.
City Manager Tim Coon was an instructor conducting a class at the Connecticut Police Academy when he learned of the attacks.
City Fire Chief Kenneth Morgan was at work with Engine 17 in Clark County, Nevada. He received an early morning phone call from his wife, telling him to turn on the television.
On Saturday, Sherwood, Scarpati, Coon and Morgan will join other city officials and local leaders in a ceremony outside City Hall, 142 E. Main St., to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Joining them will be U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The event will begin at 8:30 a.m.
Later that day, the Meriden Housing Authority will host a dedication of a newly installed flagpole and gazebo at Hanover Place, a housing development that serves homeless military veterans and those at-risk of becoming homeless. The dedication starts at 1 p.m., and will include a 21-gun salute by the Meriden Antique Veterans. The Meriden Lions Club provided the flagpole and gazebo, explained Eddie Siebert, director of real estate services for the Meriden Housing Authority.
Sherwood and others who spoke with the Record-Journal Thursday relayed a similar message as the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 approaches: Never forget.
“It’s important that we know our history, that we reflect on this day and the sacrifices that were made,” Sherwood said. Over the 20 years that followed thousands of U.S. military members would be killed in combat in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sherwood noted that on Sept. 11, 2001 alone at least 70 police officers died in the attacks.
Those who died reported to duty like they had countless times before. Sherwood said that is a testament to their courage and professionalism.
“I think that’s in the back of every police officer’s mind,” Sherwood said. “You do your best to come in and do your job and serve the public…. You hope and pray that tragedy never comes. You hope and pray to never face it. That’s what our job is.”
On Saturday, a U.S. flag that had flown over Ground Zero will be hoisted up the flagpole by City Hall.
City Councilor Bob Williams Jr. described the importance of continuing to remember that fateful day and the bravery of first responders.
“You just don’t want to forget,” he said. “It’s very simple. Our first responders, fire, police emergency services — we can’t thank these people enough for what they do every day for our well-being.”
Coon said those who responded in the immediate aftermath of the attacks did their best to save lives.
“And they saved thousands of lives,” Coon said.
Scarpati said 20 years later the attacks are still unfathomable and unthinkable.
“The emotion today is just as raw as it was twenty years ago,” he said.
Scarpati said every year he asks the same question about that day: Have we forgotten?
“And I can’t help but think, in this divisive time, that we have forgotten. And it’s my plea that we don’t forget and we understand what it was like to come together as one nation after those attacks and we remember what that was like,” he said. “No matter the political party, no matter the race, no matter the gender, we were there for one another and we need to be there, more than ever before. Now more than ever.”