Under a peppery gray sky and a soft September rain, the city of San Diego remembered the first responders who lost their lives trying to save lives at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The 22nd annual 9-11 memorial ceremony was once again held on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum where retired New York City firefighters, American and United Airlines flight crews, and average citizens came together to echo the shared message of “never forget.”

“It was a tragic day,” said Anthony Cuomo, a retired emergency medical technician with the New York City Fire Department who was one of the initial first responders on scene at the World Trade Center. “So many people lost their lives. We must always remember them.”

Retired New York City firefighter and paramedic Anthony Cuomo was one of the initial first responders at the World Trade Center.

During the somber tribute, the names of all 343 first responders who died on Sept. 11, as well as the names of the flight crews from American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines flight 175, were read aloud before a gathering of more than 200 on the ship’s bow. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria read the first five names during the observance.

Although more than two decades have passed since the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil took place, for those firefighter who were at Ground Zero, it still feels like yesterday.

“It’s impossible for me to forget,” said retired firefighter Robert Allen. “All of us firemen feel the same way. For us it’s just too personal.”

“It’s difficult to forget,” said Drew Kinash, a retired member of New York City Engine Company 36. “In the fire department, you become family. I lost a lot of friends. We just have to remember how many people we lost.”

The commemoration was again organized by the New York Firefighter Retirees Association, along with assistance from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, the National City Fire Department and the Wounded Warrior Project.

“The things that those firefighters did, and the policemen, and all those people who responded, they saved thousands of people,” said Don Miner, a retired National City battalion fire chief. “It’s amazing.”

The devastating impact of the terrorist attack has reached far beyond the first responder community. The loss of hundreds of firefighters and police touched tens of thousands of families across the United States. For those living in Southern California, attending this yearly ceremony continues to be part of their healing process.

Midway hosted the 22nd annual Sept. 11

“I think it’s a matter of remembering what these first responders do for us,” said Joanne Matzas, whose brother Ron Svec spent months working at Ground Zero following the attack. “They really put their lives on the line for us.”

Svec, a New York City firefighter, was diagnosed with cancer a year after the attack as the result of exposure to noxious materials. He passed away in 2018.

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