9/11 first responder, local officials commemorate 16th anniversary of attacks

By Lou Ponsi

A 200-member choir sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

A pipes and drums corps played “America the Beautiful.”

The colors were presented, and the National Anthem was performed.

The OCFA Pipes & Drums band plays in the East Room of the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum during a 9/11 commemoration ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

And amid the pomp and pageantry in the East Room at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda, retired New York City Police Sgt. John Curtis, a first responder to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, recounted his movements and emotions as he watched the World Trade Center’s North Tower collapse.

Curtis was the featured speaker at the library’s annual 9/11 commemoration Monday, the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Speaking before a gathering of more than 700, Curtis paused to compose himself several times as he talked about the months he spent at the World Trade Center site that came to be known as Ground Zero, and his time at the Fresh Kills Landfill, where rubble was sifted in a search for human remains.

Michael Short encourages the audience to join in as he conducts the Orange High School Choir during the 9/11 commemoration ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“My story is no different than the countless number of first responders that were there that day,” Curtis said. “My story can’t be told without telling the story of the many faceless and nameless New Yorkers who, on that day, risked their lives for strangers, risked their lives to help someone they would never see again.”

A collection of 2,977 U.S. flags, representing each person killed on 9/11, were implanted on the library grounds and 9/11 artifacts were on display inside.

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes gives his speech during the 9/11 commemoration ceremony in the East Room of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Other speakers included Orange County Fire Authority Chief Dave Anderson and Undersheriff Don Barnes of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“This anniversary remains difficult for many,” Anderson said. “But the community’s presence here today reminds us of the love and faithfulness in your hearts and of our nation. We will never forget the nearly 3,000 lives that were taken from us — innocent men, women and children whose lives were cut short in a cruel act that defies explanation.”

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes speaks to the crowd that filled the East Room at the Nixon Library.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Barnes talked about the legacy of 9/11 from a law enforcement perspective, citing strategies that have been implemented through collaboration among public safety professionals. Such collaborations are designed to bolster rapid response and prevent future attacks.

“These strategies, unfortunately, are based on lessons learned from 9/11,” Barnes said.

The OCFA Pipes & Drums band plays in the East Room of the Nixon Library during the 9/11 commemoration ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In Orange County, the OCSD, the OC Fire Authority, city police agencies and the FBI formed a terrorism fusion center that is active around the clock and has been instrumental in preventing attacks, the undersheriff said.

“This center, and other operations, represent a paradigm shift in public safety work,” Barnes said. “No longer do we operate in silos, where information and resources are not shared. Today we collaborate with one another, share information and perform coordinated operations that result in a safer Orange County for all of our residents.”

Barnes also acknowledged an uptick in division and strife in the U.S.

The Air Force Blue Eagles Color Guard presents the colors during the National Anthem at the start of the ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

But the undersheriff went on to say that recent disasters such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma have galvanized Americans toward a unified response, in much the same way the country came together after 9/11.

“Our shared American kinship is never stronger than in times of great distress,” he said. “Let’s choose to honor the victims of 9/11 by standing together, shoulder to shoulder, in defense of those noble principles that have marked us as Americans for over 200 years.

Attendees stand for the National Anthem at the start of the 9/11 commemoration ceremony at the Nixon Library.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Let’s honor their memory by showing our way of life cannot be destroyed and that the ideology of the 9/11 attackers will not endure. That would be a very American thing to do.”

Retired NYPD Sgt. John Curtis receives a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Choir performers surround the East Room of the Nixon Library as they sing during the 9/11 commemoration ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Michael Short conducts the Orange High School Choir.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Acting Fire Chief Dave Anderson gives his speech.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Bagpipers play, as part of the OCFA Pipes & Drums band, in front of a painting of George Washington at the start of the ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Acting Fire Chief Dave Anderson and Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes, right, attend the 9/11 commemoration ceremony before giving their speeches at the Nixon Library.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A flag from OCFA Truck 34 hangs over people as they enter the Nixon Library for a 9/11 commemoration ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Chuck Jay conducts the Villa Park Symphonic Ensemble during the 9/11 commemoration ceremony in the East Room of the Nixon Library.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Choir performers surround the East Room of the Nixon Library as they sing during the 9/11 commemoration ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC