9/11 'back in a flash' for those at observance

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Silence fell over the more than 100 gathered for the 9/11 observance. Complete silence. No whispers between friends and family members, no coughing, no nervous shuffling of feet. Complete silence.

The forecast was for possible rain showers, so a tent was erected at the site of the 9/11 memorial in Oakland Beach. Honor guards from police, fire and the National Guard stood at attention. Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur raised his right hand and held a salute, ramrod straight and eyes forward. Rep. Camille Vella Wilkinson, a retired Naval officer who organized the observance with Rep. Joseph Solomon Jr., stood at the podium.

Fog shrouded Greenwich Bay. The flag, at half-staff, hung limp in the mist-filled air.

A minute went by. The distant mourn of the Warwick Light foghorn was a reminder that time doesn’t stand still. Two minutes, and then three. It was a moment for reflection, for peace.

“It was 10:28 when the second tower fell,” Vella-Wilkinson said, breaking the silence. Carl Pecchia played the bagpipes. The service started. People put aside their private thoughts and focused on the pageantry, the reflections and the stories that followed.

This was the 15th observance held at the memorial for the three Warwick natives who lost their lives on that day 17 years ago.

Time has not dulled the pain or fogged the memory for Donnalee Charette, whose son Mark was in the first World Trade Center tower to fall.

Friends Carol Bouchard and Renee Tetreault Newell were aboard American Flight 11 out of Boston. They had planned a “girls’ getaway” to Las Vegas. It was the plane that hit the first tower.

“It all comes back in a flash,” Donnalee said, standing with her sister, Maureen McMahon, in front of the stone marker bearing Mark’s name and his picture after the ceremony. When Donnalee learned of the attack her first fear was that either Mark or his brother, since their jobs always took them places, were on a plane.

“I didn’t even know there was an office in the World Trade Center.”

When it happened Mark’s children were 7, 5 and 2. Now the two older boys have graduated from Princeton University and her granddaughter is in college.

“They still have issues,” she said. She mourns that Mark never lived to see his children grow up.

“It was the biggest tragedy in our lives,” she says of the collective family.

For others in attendance, the events of 9/11 were likewise indelibly inscribed in their memories. Judy Cobden, who worked in the heart of the financial district at the time, told of the subway she was riding stopping and being told it would go no further. On leaving the station, she found a world of confusion, people covered with ash and fleeing away from Ground Zero. She joined them, thankful for the sneakers she had worn, and she still wears every 9/11. She said they saved her life. Her seven-mile escape took her over the Brooklyn Bridge and left her covered with ash and bits of broken glass. She said she didn’t imagine she would make it and when she arrived at her home she collapsed at the door.

Cobden spoke of the long-term effects to those exposed to the scene, the first responders and the citizens who have cancers. She stressed the importance of air quality.

Cobden also talked of the “solidarity we had” following the attack. She wished for that, but also that our youth be taught tolerance and acceptance of people different than they are so that events like the attacks don’t occur again.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis recalled how Larry Andrews, who has since died, and Tom Isacco launched the drive to build the Warwick 9/11 memorial. She spoke of the secure feeling of the place and how even on a busy day when so much is happening at Oakland Beach it is a place of solace and reflection.

“They crushed many things,” Travis said of the terrorists, “but not our spirit.”

Mayor Joseph Solomon talked of a day that will never be forgotten and how, as a country, “we will never be defeated. We will never stand down.”

Adding a new dimension to the Warwick observance, Ryan Sherry, who remembers the day when he was just a boy, told of his service as a member of the Rhode Island Army National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ongoing war against terrorism and how we tracked down the man responsible for 9/11.

With the reading of the names of the three Warwick residents lost in the attack, St. Kevin School students placed American and Rhode Island flags at each of the memorial markers. Father Robert Marciano delivered the benediction and Nathan Cornell played “Taps.”

A candlelight vigil was held at the memorial Tuesday night for those unable to make it that morning.

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