Hundreds of Valley residents gathered Sunday morning in Clovis for a somber remembrance on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
An estimated 1,000 people, including emergency and military personnel, came together at the California Memorial on the campus of Pelco by Schneider Electric to hear a snippet of radio traffic from firefighters responding to the World Trade Center, and to hear from one of the retired New York City firefighters who was there that day.
A large flag lowered to half-staff was met with a colorful wreath laid by Marines. Clovis Firefighters Pipes and Drums played a slow, dirge-like version of “Scotland the Brave” as they marched past the throngs at the annual ceremony.
Some of those who gathered Sunday shared their own recollections of that day 15 years ago.
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“It’s history,” Matt Hunt, 38, said.
Hunt, a truck driver from Clovis, said he remembers exactly where he was when he first heard the news that two passenger jets had struck both World Trade Center towers in New York City.
“I was on Highway 99 just passing Jensen Avenue when I heard on the radio,” he said. “I thought it was a joke. I really did.”
After a few phone calls and asking around, Hunt said, “it was the real deal.”
Hunt’s son, Justin Bailey, 17, who marched along with members of the Young Marines before the ceremony, said he doesn’t remember the 9/11 event except for what he has learned in school.
“To be here today is a big honor because there’s not a lot of people that get to be a part of this,” Bailey said. He was only 2 years old on Sept. 11, 2001.
On Friday, the senior at Gateway High School in Clovis said his class was shown a video of the events.
“It’s very disturbing to see what people are capable of,” Bailey said.
A guest speaker at the ceremony was Andrew Isolano, 49, a retired New York Fire Department firefighter and survivor of 9/11. Isolano, now a fire prevention officer with the Clovis Fire Department, recalled what happened that morning.
“On the morning of 9/11, I had just finished a 24-hour shift,” Isolano said.
Roughly two minutes of real-time radio calls from New York City firefighters the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, were played and gave attendees an idea of what Isolano began hearing as he was called back in to work.
Isolano said he watched as the first tower burned after being struck and later witnessed another plane hit the second tower.
“We knew at that point it was no longer just an accident,” Isolano said.
As he crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, he would see the top of the second tower come down, he said.
Isolano moved to Clovis in 2005, when he was flown to California by former Pelco president David McDonald, who Isolano says “saved my life.”
“I come here to this event every year (and) it is a deep honor,” Isolano said. “The people of this community have made me realize that there is good in the world.”
By the time the smoke from the fallen towers cleared, Isolano had lost 13 close friends in the 9/11 tragedy, he told the somber crowd.
To be called a hero, he said, is hard to accept. But Isolano said if it is on behalf of the men and women in uniform, he accepts it.
“If I can represent the uniform well (and) represent the lives of both men and women that give their life everyday in the fire service, then I will accept that on their behalf,” Isolano said.
Isolano’s words drew tears from Carol Guthrie, 65, of Clovis.
“Andy does that all the time,” she said. Guthrie works with Isolano at the Clovis Fire Department, where she is a principal office assistant.
Guthrie said the 9/11 observance ceremony was moving and emotional at times. She was living in Illinois when the events occurred and remembers it “like it was yesterday.”
“I worked at a high school, and we watched the towers come down,” Guthrie said. “It was unbelievable.”
What she recalls surprising her the most is the quiet, clear skies that followed the attack. Guthrie said she noticed there were no airplanes in the air for days where she lived, 65 miles outside of Chicago.
In 2004, she moved to Clovis, where she worked for the city but later found a job at the fire department, something she says she is “privileged” to do.
“They do this day in and day out,” Guthrie said. “They are putting their lives on the line every single day.”
In the Valley and across the nation, the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was marked by somber ceremony and sad remembrance.
In addition to the ceremony at Pelco by Schneider Electric, Fresno State lowered its campus flags to half-staff Sunday to remember the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, including two Fresno State alumni.
U.S. Navy Lt. Col. Otis Vincent Tolbert Jr, a former Bulldogs football player, was killed when American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon, where he worked for the U.S. Navy. Tolbert was from Lemoore.
Todd Beamer died when United Airlines Flight 93 that was being steered toward Washington, D.C., crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after its passengers, led by Beamer and his now famous “Let’s Roll” battle cry, tried to overwhelm the hijackers.