Honor, remembrance and continuing the legacy were the main themes of the 19th Annual City of Phoenix September 11 Memorial Ceremony on Friday morning.

Fire Capt. Rob McDade kicked off the ceremony by shedding light on the fact that this day is not just about the first responders and civilians that were lost during 9/11.

“It’s important that we remember those survivors and first responders who we continue to lose from 9/11 related exposures and illnesses,” McDade said.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego echoed McDade’s words, adding that this tragedy will never be forgotten even as the years move forward.

Gallego said that the terrorist attacks that happened 19 years ago “were a horrific tragedy” that changed our nation for many generations.

She talked about her personal experience that day and what she felt in those moments when she heard of the two planes crashing into the World Trade Center, attack on the Pentagon and the crash of the United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

“I was living with someone whose father worked in the Pentagon in the area that was hit by a plane on 9/11,” Gallego said. “Luckily he was okay, but in the weeks to come, it seemed everyday there was new bad news about someone who did not get the same phone call.”

Gallego said that as we honor and remember the lives that were lost on this day, we also celebrate the first responders and civilians who ran into those burning buildings trying to save the lives of people trapped inside.

As the themes of memories and honors were shared, there was another common theme that went unspoken.

The removal of the mask before giving a speech about this tragic day pointed to another tragedy the nation is currently experiencing; the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everyone in the Phoenix Fire Training Academy who was giving a speech was seated in a social-distance style with masks on.

Councilman Michael Nowakowski was among the speakers who shared his perspective of what happened on 9/11.

Nowakowski said that there are some memories that stick in people’s minds and the tragedy of 9/11 was the one for his generation.

He talked about how he had started a cheerful morning, ready to step out for work, when all of that was changed as he turned on the TV and saw the breaking news. 

“I wake up my wife and say, ‘Look what’s going on,’” Nowakowski said. “My wife was seven months pregnant with our first born, and we were wondering to ourselves what kind of a world are we bringing our child into?”

Nowakowski said that he was worried after 8 years of trying for a baby, his first child would be living in an unsafe nation.

He said that the scene of the tragedy was unfolding on his TV and the numbers for missing and dead people kept on climbing.

“As I started to watch the television, I started to see little children at school ask for pennies and nickels and dimes to help out the families [whose] loved ones were no longer around,” Nowakowski said. “And then all of a sudden this love, compassion came about; and my wife was holding onto her stomach saying, ‘This is the type of world I want to bring my son into.’”

Nowakowski, who has also served the past 8 years as the Chair of the Public Safety Subcommittee, said that this would be his last time as chairmen participating in the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony.

Nowakowski said that it is crucial for the generations to come to learn about the legacy of the heroes who were helping save lives as the buildings were collapsing under the excruciating flames of the plane crashes.

“It’s so important that the young people understand what happened 19 years ago,” Nowakowski said. “And the legacy of the nearly 3,000 individuals who passed away continues to grow in our hearts and our minds and in our souls.”

Nowakowski also had a message of hope for the people who were born during 9/11.

Nowakowski described the generation that was born during 9/11 as a “powerful, solid, strong, caring, loving generation,” who will continue the legacy of the fallen heroes and change the lives of many people.

The 9/11 Memorial Ceremony ended with the fire department’s sounding of the bell tradition.

The bell was rung for the first responders who lost their lives during 9/11, with “the unique FDNY signal called Five-Four;” which meant five rings for four times.