On Wednesday morning, a crowd of nearly 70 Dunkirk residents, city officials, police officers and fire department members gathered at the fire department headquarters on Eagle Street for the annual remembrance ceremony that marked 18 years since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“We started this ceremony a couple of years after 9/11,” Dunkirk Fire Chief Mike Edwards told the OBSERVER. “Captain Gary Katta and I have been a part of it since the beginning. … We’ve always vowed — and in the fire service we’ve always said — that we’re going to do everything we can to never forget those who were lost, and this ceremony provides us a way of doing that.”
Although members of Dunkirk’s fire department were not called upon to assist in the aftermath of 9/11, they were prepared to serve. “I remember we were on standby that day,” Edwards recalled. “Everybody wanted to be there to help. We had a task force ready, but we were never actually called in.”
Edwards shared the story behind a bracelet he wears in remembrance of Thomas Butler, a 12-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, a former police officer, husband and father of three children, who lost his life on 9/11.
“His father, a retired FDNY captain, and his brother, a Port Authority police officer, worked the pile trying to recover their son and brother and all of those like him,” said Edwards. “For eight months, they were on the pile, so that if Thomas’ remains were found, they’d be there. His remains were never found. A reflection of that day is a remembrance of the thousands of stories just like those of Thomas Butler and his family.”
Following Edwards’ remarks, Katta invited Michille Gnadzinski, a sophomore at Dunkirk High School, to sing the National Anthem.
“Although the years continue to pass since that horrific day, the memories of it remain etched deeply in our minds,” said Katta. “… As firefighters, we continue to remember our 343 brothers, as well as the 23 police officers and 55 military members who made the ultimate sacrifice that day. This year, on July 17, New York City Firefighter Richard Driscoll succumbed to a 9/11-related illness. His passing marked the 200th firefighter death of 9/11-related illnesses since that day.”
Katta thanked the members of the public in attendance, as well as the retired fire department members who gathered to show their support. He invited Chaplain Monsignor Al Cloty to offer the prayer and closing remarks. Cloty, who was serving as chaplain for the Buffalo Fire Department during 9/11, shared important lessons learned from that tragic day.
“The lesson for us is we do not know, ever, what tomorrow will hold,” he said. “As firefighters, we don’t want to be melodramatic about this, but every time you go out the door, you never know what’s going to happen next — none of us does.”
Cloty explained that he served as Buffalo’s fire department chaplain for 23 years and knew several people who were killed on 9/11. While he and many other chaplains wanted to lend their support at Ground Zero, “I knew my place was in Buffalo,” Cloty recalled. He pointed out that Buffalo, with its power, chemical and steel plants, was thought to be a prime target after 9/11. “I thought, ‘If I’m in New York City and something happens in Buffalo, I am negligent,’ “ he pointed out. “The lesson there, I think, is to do well what we are called to do; to be the people we are qualified to be and not worry about whatever we want to do personally, but what duty demands.”
He thanked Katta and Edwards for inviting him to be a part of Dunkirk’s ceremony for the past three years. “We must remember,” Cloty concluded. “We can never, ever forget what hatred and bigotry bring about.”