Several local citizens joined first responders and government officials for the 2nd annual 9/11 Memorial Service Wednesday morning at the headquarters of the Somerset-Pulaski County Special Response Team on Stigall Drive, which serves as home to a public memorial featuring a piece of steel from the World Trade Center's North Tower.
The steel is on permanent loan to SRT from the Port Authority of New York and was dedicated locally in September 2011.
"People can come down and look at this [any time], touch it and pray with it," SRT Chief Doug Baker said. "Those of us who have been around this for a long time don't consider that a cold piece of metal. To us, it's something that breathes. We respect it with every dignity we have and would protect it like we would anything else."
Following the welcome from Chief Baker and an invocation from Fire Chief David Hawk, featured speakers included Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, Pulaski County-Judge Executive Steve Kelley and local historian Don Elmore.
Mayor Keck spoke about how #NeverForget should be a mindset going beyond one day -- keeping in mind those who lost their lives on 9/11 as well as their families, the emergency service personnel who went back again and again to find survivors, and those who responded to the military call to defend us in the War on Terror.
"We should never forget that America is in fact that shining beacon to the rest of the world," Mayor Keck said, "that it is the world's greatest and true democracy, and it's worth fighting for."
Judge Kelley recounted how he ironically learned of the attacks as he was arranging for a home security system. It wasn't until the second plane struck the World Trade Center that his heart began to since with the realization that our country was being attacked.
"God is always in control," Judge Kelley said. "…I am so thankful for these men and women who have answered that call to be a chariot of fire, if you will, for God. Somebody that's going to protect us and look out for us."
Elmore, who approached Baker last year about organizing a 9/11 ceremony since the memorial features the only WTC steel known to be in the area, said he's just a citizen who loves his country.
"Eighteen years ago, our country was attacked by forces of evil," Elmore said. "We gather today not in anger but in remembrance and honor for those who perished that day and those who continue to protect us.…After 9/11, our country came together as it seldom does."
The ceremony concluded with "striking the four fives" -- four sets of five bell rings to honor those lost in the line of duty -- and Mark Davidson performing "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. Those attending were also invited to ring the bell and touch the steel beam.