Around Meridian, community commemorates and reflects on 9/11

Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star

David Dearman, with Meridian Fire Department Station 4, holds his hand over his heart with fellow firefighters during the National Anthem Wednesday prior to the third annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb race at the city parking garage.

Around Meridian, the community spent Wednesday remembering a tragic day in American history through various events.  

In the morning, Naval Air Station Meridian held a ceremony honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on Sept. 11, 2001.

The event allowed service members to reflect on that terrible day, when terrorists struck the World Trade Center and other sites,  killing nearly 3000 people. 

Around Meridian, community commemorates and reflects on 9/11

Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star

Participants make their way up and down the stairs of the city parking garage as they pay tribute to victims of 9/11 on Wednesday. 

Bill Johnson, a retired Navy hospital corpsman who spoke during the event, remembers 9/11 like it was yesterday. He was 25 miles from the Pentagon, one of the landmarks targeted by terrorists that day.

"It's very personal," Johnson said. "It feels like it just happened." 

Johnson said it's important to to remember the sacrifice of those who answered the call on 9/11, and also to honor those who serve daily. 

"My hope is that nobody forgets the sacrifices of those that have come before," he told the audience. "The worst thing for those in the service is to forget."

Erik Alvardo Jr., who is stationed at NAS Meridian, was just a baby in 2001. 

But after seeing his uncle serve in the military, he wanted to do the same, even graduating high school early so he could join up as soon as possible.   

“It all started in high school," Alvardo said."My uncle was in the Marine Corps and served in Operation Desert Storm, so he motivated me through high school to join." 

Alvardo said younger people can learn from the courage of 9/11 responders, who ran into burning buildings, sacrificing their own safety to save lives.  

Commander JP Falardeau said he joined the service because he had firefighters in his family and felt like it was also his duty to serve.

Reflecting on 9/11, he echoed Alvardo's thoughts of those rescuers running to help others, when they could have easily turned around. 

"Our service has been very much defined by the events of 9/11," Falardeau said, adding that one of the roles of service members now is to make sure another 9/11 doesn't happen.

Around Meridian, community commemorates and reflects on 9/11

Bianca Moorman / The Meridian Star

Bill Johnson speaks during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony at NAS Meridian Wednesday as Petty Officer Eugene Murphy listens.  



Late in the day, first responders and members of the community took part in a stair climb at the parking garage in downtown Meridian. First responders competed wearing gear they would need at a fire or a crime scene.

The third annual event raised money for first responders during times of need. 

 "All the money goes to first responders, just like the 9/11 first responders who lost their lives," said Diann Sollie, an organizer of the event. "We want to give back to our community of first responders during a time of need." 

Like Johnson, Sollie emphasized that first responders shouldn't just be recognized on 9/11, but every day.

"I don't think it should just be on 9/11," she said. "They put their life on the line everyday for us as citizens," she said.

Michael Couch, another organizer of the event, said he hopes the stair climb continues for years to come. 

"We want to keep it everyone's mind, because it is a memorial event," Couch said. "But we are also raising money to take care of our first responders in the community." 

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