It was a Tuesday morning some two decades ago when Mark Abshire, a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, and speechwriter for the Secretary of the Air Force working at the Pentagon, heard a deafening sound.
“I thought it was a bomb; I felt the shockwave,” Abshire, a Port Townsend native, recalled.
While the immediate details of the horror of what became known as 9/11 wasn’t realized just yet, he said, “each one of us knew something had changed forever.”
On Friday morning, Abshire joined local police officers, firefighters, other responders and community members in recognizing 9/11 on the eve of the event’s 20th anniversary with a ceremony at the Sequim Civic Center plaza.
“We must always remember,” said Abshire, the keynote speaker who now serves as executive director for the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
“We honor those ho lost their lives and we also honor those who survived the attacks … (those) who put themselves in harm’s way to save others, many of whom they never knew,” he said.
Abshire was one of about 18,000 staffers working in the Pentagon when Flight 77 crashed into the structure, killing all 64 aboard and another 125 people in the building.
He said there is no doubt in his mind passengers aboard the flight were able to down the plane and minimize the toll on life.
“Pieces of the building would have landed on my desk,” he said. He recalled hearing the fourth and fifth floors of the structure collapsing as he walked home.
“I came home to screams of joy that I was alive,” he said.
Friday’s ceremony included comments from Sequim Police Chief Sherri Crain and Clallam County Fire District 3 Chief Ben Andrews, as well as city councilors Keith Larkin and Rachel Anderson.
Larkin, who spent a 41-year career in the fire service with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, remarked that the sacrifices made by first responders and others that day — more than 29,000 in all — remains the single deadliest incident in the nation’s history.
“We will be forever grateful for their service and their sacrifice for our country,” he said.
“These responders did what they continue to do,” Andrews said: “They run toward danger instead of running away.”
And first responders continue to do so every day in local community like Sequim, Crain said.
“We are here to serve our community,” she said.
Abshire urged those in attendance to spend less time in factious political debate and resurrect the spirit that lived on in the days following the 9/11 attacks.
’We all came together; we helped each other, we were kind,” Abshire said.
The most enduring memorial for 9/11, he said, is to “ensure the America we all love stays that way.
“America is not a building that can be burned or destroyed,” Abshire said. “Doing so only has the effect of strengthening the heart and soul of America.”