When Michael McAvoy walks through Tempe’s Healing Field remembering those killed during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he said he usually walks through the sea of nearly 3,000 American flags when no one else is there.
But on Tuesday morning, McAvoy was among about 300 people who turned out at Tempe Beach Park to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost and those injured in the World Trade Towers in New York that tragic and chaotic day as well those as at the Pentagon and a farm field in Shanksville, Pa.
The ceremony back-dropped by 2,977 American flags representing each person who died on Sept. 11, 2001, also included city officials such as Mayor Mark Mitchell, Tempe police Chief Tom Ryff and Tempe fire Chief Greg Ruiz speaking during the event that included bagpipes, a bugler playing taps, a steady rain and roar of airplanes overhead leaving nearby Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
And for the first time, McAvoy also was among 42 other people who stepped up to the microphone to read the names of those who died, including the name of his brother, John McAvoy of New York City’s Fire Department Ladder 3 who was killed at age 47 responding to Tower 1 as well as his best friend, Jimmy Ladley, 42, whose office was on the 104th floor of Tower 1.
“It’s pretty powerful,” McAvoy said of the Healing Field and ceremony, which is one of the largest and longest-running Sept. 11 commemoration events in the United States. “I’m proud of how Arizona remembers Sept. 11. With all these flags, you realize the enormity of it and all the people who died. It never ends, and makes you realize how much worse it could’ve been.”
McAvoy lives in Scottsdale, but was in New York City when the attacks happened.
“I can never forget my brother and my best friend,” McAvoy added. “By remembering them on this day, it kind of brings them to life. John was my older brother who always looked out for me. He and Jimmy were the gold in my family, the bright stars. John actually was off-duty that day, but at the station in street clothes when the attacks happened. Like the rest of them, he had to go out there.”
Joseph Lutrario, a former New York city police officer who worked in the Brooklyn South Task Force, also was one of the ones who had to go out there after the attack on the World Trade Towers.
Lutrario was the keynote speaker during the commemoration ceremony at the Healing Field. He and his partner helped to evacuate children from the day care center in the north tower before it fell and were inside the south tower when it came down.
As the south tower crumbled and fell, Lutrario was buried in the rubble, defying the odds by surviving.
“The floors were buckling, the noise was deafening; I just thought the top of the building was falling off,” said Lutrario. “It was like an earthquake. We never made it out of the building.”
A civilian who was helping Lutrario and his partner evacuate the children, perished in the south tower.
Buried and injured, going in and out of consciousness, Lutrario said he just thought he would be found the following morning. He said he doesn’t recall how long he was in the rubble before he was pulled out of it. He later helped with the recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
“Evacuating the children was the most important thing I did that day,” Lutrario said. “No children died on the ground that day.”
Others in attendance at the ceremony, many of whom mark 9/11 each year by performing some kind of service or act of remembrance, will never forget where they were on Sept. 11, 2001.
Becca Lawson of Chandler, who played “Taps” at the ceremony for the fourth straight year as a part of the Buglers Across America group, said she was inside her college dorm room at Virginia Tech University when she learned of the attacks.
“It’s my way to give back to my country and to remember those who served that day,” Lawson said of playing “Taps.” “It’s pretty important for me. We need to remember those who served and lost their lives.”
Bill Marshall, a Sun City West firefighter who grew up in Jersey City, N.J.’s Hoboken section, was ending a double shift at the fire station in Sun City West when one of his colleagues said two planes crashed into the World Trade Towers.
Marshall, who was marking his 23rd anniversary of being a firefighter on Tuesday, said he was glad he was able to get through to his friend who worked for the New York Port Authority on the 94th floor inside one of the World Trade Towers, but was late to work that day.
“I called my wife and told her that I loved her and that I hoped to see her and my children again. We just didn’t know what was happening, but we were ready to do whatever needed to be done that day.”
Marshall, who has climbed 38 stories of stairs at the Chase Building in downtown Phoenix in full gear (the World Trade Towers each were 102 stories) as part of a Sept. 11 memorial exercise, also said he participates in the 9/11 Remembrance Run and Walk in Glendale wearing full gear.
Dr. Jeff Ager, also continued to make his annual pilgrimage to the Healing Field to remember his best friend and mentor, Gary Bird.
Recently hired as a senior vice president for Marsh & McLennan Cos., a U.S.-based global professional services and insurance firm, Bird of Tempe was the only Arizonan to die in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks while attending a meeting on the 99th floor of the north tower.
“Gary was the past president of the Tempe Jaycees and a former chairman of the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the East Valley. He taught me everything I knew about community service,” Ager said. “Service to humanity is the best work of life. Gary was unselfish and knew how to work through adversity. I always come here to remember him. This day brings everyone together and it always should.”
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