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Waukegan firefighters, police remember 9/11

Waukegan Fire Department Lt. Dave Paff rings bell 3 times memory fallen firemen policemen during 9/11Ceremony held Fireman's Memorial Park

Waukegan Fire Department Lt. Dave Paff rings the bell 3 times in memory of fallen firemen and policemen during the 9/11Ceremony held at Fireman's Memorial Park in Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 14, 2012 12:57PM

WAUKEGAN — Of all the 9/11 remembrance ceremonies staged around the country on Tuesday, Waukegan’s was surely one of the most intimate. There was no large crowd, no soaring music and talk was kept to a minimum.

Set in the small, secluded Fireman’s Park on the city’s North Side, the short ceremony drew dozens of solemn-faced, uniformed police and firefighters who stood at attention in rows. A sprinkling of civilians, including neighbors who arrived at the last minute from their homes in the Castlecrest subdivision, northwest of Yorkhouse Road and Lewis Avenue, also attended what has become an annual reminder to the city’s public safety officers of their oath to serve and protect, even if it means paying what Waukegan Fire Chief Dan Young called “the supreme sacrifice.”

Young asked the public servants gathered before him to reflect on “the courage of the policemen and firefighters who rushed into two burning towers to bring thousands to safety,” and “the courage of the Flight 93 passengers” who stormed the terrorists who had taken control of their plane, giving their lives in exchange for those of an untold number of strangers on the ground.

“Our American spirit is defined by our ability to move forward in the aftermath of overwhelming loss, even when it seems easier to quit,” Young said.

“The people who ran into those buildings to save people and didn’t come back out, they’re the heroes,” said Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian, who called for “less anger and more reflection” on the events of 9/11.

Waukegan Police Chief Daniel Greathouse lauded the country for its response to the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“We put aside our differences and divisions,” Greathouse said. “We were all New Yorkers. We were all Americans and we were stronger than we were before.”

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said public safety is a calling.

“That day (9/11) people saw the face of God in our chosen profession,” Curran said. “As police and firefighters, we may be called to give our lives. When we sign up for a profession like this we need to ask: Are we prepared to die? Is there a loved one who needs to be told we love them or someone who needs our forgiveness?”

Waukegan Fire Lt. Dave Roberts, a 34-year veteran of the department, visited with retired Waukegan firefighter Frank Turk after the ceremony that was punctuated by a lone bagpiper before ending with a bugler’s Taps and the traditional nine strikes of the firemen’s bell.

“Back in the day, these guys were heroes,” Roberts said. “There were no air packs or masks. They went into burning buildings and came out coughing and hacking, then went back in again. They taught us a lot, these senior guys. We had a lot of respect for them.”

Asked to reflect on 9/11, Turk, who helped train Roberts before retiring in 1985, uttered words as simple and powerful as the ceremony he had just witnessed.

“When that bell rings, you gotta’ go,” he said.

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