The “343” part of the name is in honor of the 343 New York City firefighters killed on Sept. 11, 2001. On Sunday, that truck was at the center of the Kodiak Coast Guard base’s ceremony to honor the people killed one decade before.
More than 100 people were on hand as Coast Guard firefighters attached an American flag to the ladder truck’s platform and raised it into the air above the base’s main gate in Kodiak’s cloudy sunrise.
“We will not forget those heroic firefighters and heroic police officers that charged up the steps of the World Trade Center,” declared assistant fire chief Mike McDonnell in a fiery speech.
“We will not forget that the first battle fought in the war against freedom was fought in the sky above Pennsylvania,” he said.
The speech drew applause from the Coast Guard family and friends who gathered on the steps of the base’s headquarters building just before 8 a.m. to see the American flag raised.
Julie Jones attended with her daughter Maddison and son Matthew.
“I think every single one of us remembers where we were,” Jones said. “We were living in Mississippi and it seemed like the world stopped. … The thought of something like that happening … is just overwhelming.”
Capt. Karl Moore, commander of Base Support Unit Kodiak, followed McDonnell’s speech by reading prepared remarks from the commandant of the Coast Guard. Where McDonnell echoed the well known stories of first responders, Moore talked about the strides the Coast Guard has made in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, and reminded listeners about the efforts of the “boatlift that safely evacuated 750,000 people in under nine hours.”
Moore said the idea for the sunrise ceremony came from the base’s firefighters.
“They wanted to hoist colors and all the military was like, ‘Hey, we need to get behind you guys,’” he said.
McDonnell said the Kodiak firefighters “did some research and found out what other fire departments throughout the country were doing to … remember the fallen firefighters.”
Most seemed to be using their ladder trucks as flagpoles to hoist the American flag, and given the name of the Kodiak fire department’s ladder truck, it seemed especially appropriate, McDonnell said.
When the attacks came 10 years ago, most of the firefighters in Kodiak were still asleep, he said.
“I was on duty; I get up early every morning. I turned the news on, and I saw there was a fire at the World Trade Center,” McDonnell said.
At first, he thought it was an accident caused by one of the helicopters used in New York City.
“About that time, the second aircraft hit, and I went and woke up all my firefighters,” he said. “We watched all our brother firefighters charging in. It’s the battle, and we were really stoked for them. When the tower collapsed, it took our hearts out because we knew at that moment in time, brother and sister firefighters had lost their lives instantaneously.”
In Kodiak, the Coast Guard went on alert, he recalled.
“We had a lot of aircraft coming in and landing and being grounded,” he said.
Moore said the Coast Guard of today is different from the force of a decade ago, but people are still the most important component.
“We’ve changed a lot since then,” he said, “but we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did without the guys in blue.”
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiak