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Tears and Reflection

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The family members of fallen Marine Emilian Sanchez of Santa Ana Pueblo stood side by side and draped their left arms on the right shoulders of one another and placed their hands over their hearts as taps played during Sunday’s 9/11 commemoration ceremonies at Civic Plaza in Downtown Albuquerque.

As the last haunting note of the military bugle call played, Sanchez’s older brother, Joey, wiped away a tear for Emilian, a 20-year-old who died in combat in Al Anbar, Iraq, in January 2007.

Sunday’s event was to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and Joey Sanchez noted that his little brother joined the Marines, in part, as a response to the attacks.

Wearing T-shirts with Lance Cpl. Emilian Sanchez’s likeness and a written tribute to their “warrior hero,” the family was honoring not only his memory, but those of all the 9/11 victims and military personnel who have died in the wars that followed, Joey Sanchez said.

Exactly 10 years ago Sunday, 19 hijackers took control of four commercial airliners, crashing two of them 17 minutes apart into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City and a third into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth jet crashed near Shanksville, Pa., when some of the passengers battled the hijackers. Its intended target was the U.S. Capitol, investigators learned later.

“We’re here to remember all the fallen heroes who died because of 9/11,” Joey Sanchez said Sunday.

“It was partly because of that attack that my baby brother went to war and we lost him,” he explained. “This is a tribute to all the sacrifices he and so many others have made.”

More than 300 people assembled at Civic Plaza to hear speakers remember and pay tribute to the 9/11 victims, whose names appeared on a pair of banners on long columns at the plaza, and the heroes of that day.

“September 11 will never be just another day in he hearts and minds of Americans,” City Councilor Don Harris said.

Gov. Susana Martinez said it’s a day to remember the courage and selflessness of Americans saving the lives of other Americans, though they may have been strangers, and the “continuing fight” by the members of the armed services against terrorism.

“Just as the events of Pearl Harbor defined a generation for greatness, so have the events of 9/11 in America’s efforts to protect peace and freedom and to keep our citizens safe at home,” the governor said.

Other observances across New Mexico included a candlelight vigil at Bataan Memorial Park organized by the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice and the ninth annual 9/11 Stair Climb at the Bank of Albuquerque building in which city firemen climbed in full gear 110 stories — the same height as the twin towers.

At a special 9/11 memorial Mass celebrated in the afternoon at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Barelas, two Albuquerque Fire Department ladder trucks hoisted a huge American flag in front of the church, which houses two large support beams salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

Dignitaries, including Mayor Richard Berry and former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, attended, as did a group of firefighters and several state politicians. A bagpiper played a solemn version of “Amazing Grace” at the beginning of the Mass. The Rev. Clarence Maes in his homily reflected on how hard and scary it can be to forgive others.

“We talk about terrorists, and things that threaten us. What God is saying is the thing that threatens us most is our ability to forgive. If we are not able to forgive, we cannot find that for ourselves,” Maes said. “The reason we forgive … is that none of us are free from sin.”

At Civic Plaza, Lara Jackson of Albuquerque said she made a point of memorizing some of the names of the 9/11 casualties, saying she was concerned that too much attention was paid to statistics, numbers like the 2,977 victims, and not to the personal lives of those who perished.

Jackson said she was particularly touched by the story of one of the victims, Brooklyn-bred Franciscan friar Mychal Judge, a 68-year-old Roman Catholic priest and a New York City fire department chaplain, who she said cared for the poor.

Rodney Miller, an FBI agent present in the twin towers when the attack occurred, and a keynote speaker at the Civic Plaza remembrance, said Sept. 11, 2001, started out as a beautiful late-summer day.

“I was sitting at the base of the north tower when suddenly I looked up and saw a giant fireball, causing I and others to run for cover,” Miller said.

He was most impressed, he said, by the selfless diligence and professionalism of police and firemen as they responded, getting as many people as they could to safety.

He told the audience that, since 9/11, the FBI has dedicated more of its intelligence and investigative resources to preventing future attacks.

As Miller spoke to an attentive and serious audience, 5-year-old Isabella Spencer twisted and fidgeted while her mother, Marcia Spencer of Los Lunas, tried unsuccessfully to keep Isabella focused on the procession of speakers, though Isabella did applaud at the appropriate moments.

“After this, can we go get something to eat and look around?” Isabella asked, her mother saying, yes, if she was good.

“I think she’s too young now to understand what is going on, but I’m hoping that as she gets older, she will know and understand the events of that day and how it changed all of us,” Marcia said, adding that she has exposed Isabella to information on the historical event as well as spoken to her about it.

“It was a turning point in my life, and I want her to know how important this day was to me and to everyone touched by it,” she said.

— Journal Staff Writer Juan Carlos Rodriguez contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal