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Local first responders were honored in two separate community ceremonies on the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue held its annual 9/11 ceremony at 6:45 a.m. at its main station on Vine Street in Kelso. The time corresponds with the time the South Tower of the World Trade Center fell in New York — 9:59 a.m. eastern time — after it was struck by a terrorist-controlled airliner.

With about 60 community members in attendance, Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Chaplain Doug Fields opened the ceremony with a prayer.

He described the “shock and horror” of the day on which the “foundations we once thought secure were shaken” and spoke of the following “longing for innocence lost.”

Fields reminded the community to celebrate the gifts given by first responders and to remember their daily sacrifices.

Cowlitz 2 Fire Chief Dave LaFave said his annual speech is the only one that makes him nervous, and he choked up and fought tears as he addressed the audience Wednesday morning.

“We talk about needing more laws to prevent bad things from happening, but it’s not more laws that we need, it’s respect for the law,” LaFave said. “If we don’t regain respect for the law, bad things will continue to happen.”

LaFave told the outdoor assembly to reflect on the simple message of the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon, which also was struck by an airliner that day: Remember the lives lost and the families left behind.

“I see a lot of stickers saying ‘Back the Blue,’ and it’s time to step up and make sure that happens,” LaFave said, speaking of the campaign to boost support for police.

Community member Cheri Johnson came to the morning ceremony for the second year in a row. Her son is a cadet in the Fire Science Program and participated in the ceremony to remember 9/11.

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“I was at the beach with my family (that day),” Johnson said. “I woke up and turned on the T.V. and told my husband, ‘Come look at this sick movie.’ But it wasn’t a movie.”

Johnson said her she thinks attending the ceremony will become “a tradition.”

Later in the morning at the Cowlitz County Fairgrounds, the United Way of Cowlitz & Wahkiakum Counties Day of Caring kicked off with a Patriot Day ceremony.

Brooke Fisher-Clark, local United Way executive director, said when the board realized the annual volunteer day would fall on 9/11, it wanted to do something to honor first responders.

“We wanted to shine a light on all these wonderful individuals,” Fisher-Clark said.

Joe Gardner, county commissioner, said the point of remembering “this dreadful event is to honor the lives lost.” He said the day’s volunteer activities would be dedicated to “those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those who are still serving their communities.”

The terrorist attacks showed how resilient Americans are, Brent Freeman told the Day of Caring volunteers. Freeman is a retired U.S. Navy commander who serves on the United Way board.

“They attacked our hearts, our minds and our souls,” Freeman said. “But we’re Americans. We specialize in the rebound and we persevered.”

Freeman told the crowd that today, as they volunteer in the community, they should take every opportunity to thank the first responders they see.

“Every night while we sleep, these men and women stand watch.”

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