Brilliant American Legion marks 9/11 anniversary
BRILLIANT — The coronavirus pandemic has curtailed many public assemblies, but it could not stop local residents from marking the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on Friday.
The flag flew at half-staff during an assembly at the Brilliant American Legion, and Commander Deb Gilchrist said flags would remain in that position until sunset. The New Alexandria and Wells Township police departments and the Brilliant Volunteer Fire Department participated in an event with the legion.
Despite concerns about COVID-19, a group gathered outside the American Legion hall to mark the 19th anniversary. Gilchrist said the event was livestreamed on the group’s Facebook page at The Brilliant American Legion Post 573.
Thanks went to Jefferson County’s veterans, as well as to firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement and other first responders.
Gilchrist said personal stories of where people were and what they were doing during the attack would be shared throughout the day. She related a story of a mother and daughter who realized the country would soon be going to war.
“Everyone was in total disbelief,” Gilchrist said. “Those are stories from our neighbors.”
Gilchrist also invited attendees to come forward and share their stories.
Ron Retzer of Brilliant recalled teaching a class where a student burst in and told him the news.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was real,” he said.
Margaret Mickoson talked about experiencing the shock of the attacks, which pulled her out of her daily concerns.
“Nineteen years later, people still feel strong about it,” she said. “The world was stopped.”
Allison Yanssens, a Wells Township trustee who was 8 years old at the time and in third grade, said few children could understand the magnitude of what had happened, and although the teachers and other adults around them remained calm, the children could see their evident fear. Yanssens said many of those children would grow up to be firefighters, police, EMTs and soldiers.
Another legion member called the attacks a “watershed” moment that changed the course of many lives, inspiring some to join the military.
“It was a strange, surreal moment,” Rich Olivito said.
State Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, who had been a Navy SEAL, also spoke about seeing the attacks on television, adding that he understood immediately that the plane crashing into the World Trade Center could not have been an accident.
“I knew it was on purpose,” he said. “We were being attacked.”
Afterward, New Alexandria Police Chief Harry Fair commended the event, adding he has marked every anniversary since 2001. His son, Anthony Fair, is a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and his late daughter, Yvonne Fair, was a biochemical engineer in the Air Force.
Gilchrest commended the turnout and said she hoped the ceremony was viewed online by many. She said the community is strongly patriotic and the pandemic made little impact on attendance.
“Because of the demographics of our town, and the fact that we changed the time, I think we had a decent turnout. And the fact that people did come out and share their stories, I think that made the whole event,” she said, adding memories of the attacks are still strong, including among those who shared their stories. “This day will always be hard.”
“This district is extremely patriotic,” Hoagland said. “We’ve got a lot of military background in this district that dates way, way back. These people love this country more than they love themselves.”
Schools and municipalities also flew flags at half-staff, and many area schools had moments of silence, readings over the loudspeakers by principals, and remembrance projects by individual classrooms.