As firefighters strapped on gear in the lobby of Town Pavilion in Kansas City, a lone bagpipe cried through the chilly morning fog in Sugar Creek.
And people everywhere Sunday asked, “Has it really been 10 years?”
So much has changed in their own lives since Sept. 11, 2001. Switched jobs, now on another. Went through two cars. Bought a house, moved again. Kids started and finished college. Babies born around that time are in fourth grade.
“But everything about that day seems like it just happened,” Charles Steele, 67, said as he stood Sunday in the crowd in front of Sugar Creek City Hall.
A team of mules clopped by, pulling a wagon carrying a jagged hunk of steel from the World Trade Center. The crowd hushed.
“I would like to think people are closer now, but I don’t know,” Steele said in a near whisper.
On the other side of the street, Meletha Martinovich said: “I think all of us changed that day, and I don’t know if we’ll ever get back. We’re not as secure as we always thought. But it brought us together, too.”
In a way, America grew smaller on Sept. 11, 2001.
The World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania became part of the town where we all live. The dead were our neighbors, and we cried for their families.
The country bonded in fear and sadness and anger.
On Sunday, Americans bonded again in memory.
It was a day of half-staffs, “Amazing Grace,” taps and tears — and rollicking music, sweat and pounding boots.
At Town Pavilion downtown, firefighters from across the Kansas City area and beyond came together to climb 110 stories in full gear to honor the 343 New York City firefighters who died in the World Trade Center.
“I’m climbing for this guy,” Matt Wilcox said, holding a lanyard with a picture on it: Kevin Bracken, Engine 40, NYFD, Never Forget.
Wilcox and others, lugging 60 to 80 pounds of gear, climbed the steps to 34th floor, rode the elevator down, did it again and again, and then went to the seventh floor. They marked the 110th flight in the lobby, ringing a bell as the crowd cheered.
“It’s about respect for those guys,” said Wilcox, 27, of the Maplewood Fire Department from a suburb near St. Louis.
“I was only in high school when it happened, but it affected me, and that’s probably why I’m a firefighter today. They climbed those stairs that day, and they didn’t know what was up there.”
Tricia Loehr, wife of a firefighter, handed out water to the climbers on the seventh floor.
Most of them smiled and declined, photos of their NYFD brothers swinging with each weary step. Those guys didn’t get water that day.
Loehr’s husband, Chad, is with the South Metro Fire Protection District. She went online to read about Peter Allen Nelson, the firefighter he climbed for.
“He was working overtime, his wife was pregnant and they didn’t find his body for 20 days,” she said. “I know this is the day to remember the guys, but I’m thinking about his wife today, too. What she went through, I don’t know if I would have made it.”
Gail and Dick Morrow came to Town Pavilion to see their son, Chris, who works for the Lawrence Fire Department.
Chris was late arriving.
“He had a fire last night,” his mother said.
As for 9/11, she said, “I remember everything about that day. I think we all do.”
Dick Morrow said: “There is this huge sadness that it happened, but also a pride in how the country responded.”
The couple brought granddaughters Lucee and Rilee, who were born after that day. But they’re not too young to know what Daddy does for a living.
“He saves people’s lives,” said Lucee, 7.
The grandparents smiled at that. They hope schools don’t miss the history lesson about Sept. 11, 2001.
Proceeds from the Memorial Stair Climb went to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Survivors Fund.
At St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in south Kansas City, World Trade Center survivor and Kansas City resident Shannon Loy spoke Sunday. Another survivor, Christopher Gilchrist, spoke at Southview Christian Church in Grandview.
The Islamic Center of Johnson County held an Interfaith Youth Alliance Peace Walk.
Delivering the sermon at Central United Methodist Church in Kansas City, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said the terrorist attacks challenged Americans to act as “wounded healers.”
“Because of our wounds, we have the capacity to minister to others,” he said, and mentioned people around the globe who have been affected by natural disasters and war. “When there is the common experience of pain and suffering, people are able to form a real kinship with those who suffer.”
Not everyone went out to a ceremony or special church service.
Johnny Strauss worked in his Brookside yard to plant a new flagpole surrounded by flowers, his motivation provided by the calendar.
“What those families have to endure every day,” he said, “we remember for them.”
At Leawood City Hall, a crowd gathered to hear children sing, police fire off a salute and firefighters ring a bell for the fallen.
Robert Thomas of Overland Park smiled when his two grandchildren sang. But he turned solemn at words about those who died that day.
“We’ve all gone on living, but today we need to think about their parents and children,” Thomas said. “We owe that to them.”
The Leawood ceremony also had a chunk of steel from the World Trade Center. Those in attendance were encouraged to touch it.
“Numbing,” Darin Peterson of Overland Park said when asked what that was like.
That word could have applied to a lot of people Sunday as the horror of 10-year-old memories came back.
But life goes on, as the firefighters in the Town Pavilion event well know.
When Tricia Loehr asked one how he was holding up on his third ascent, he smiled through sweat.
“Still going,” he said.