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In Fargo-Moorhead, emergency crews, bagpipes honor 9/11 fallen

FARGO - Charlotte Franks-Erickson clutched a small American flag as she stood with others on the Veterans Memorial Bridge and watched in silence as two floral wreaths fell to the Red River.

FARGO - Charlotte Franks-Erickson clutched a small American flag as she stood with others on the Veterans Memorial Bridge and watched in silence as two floral wreaths fell to the Red River.

The teacher from Sheyenne couldn't think of being anyplace else Sunday morning to remember the fallen heroes and victims of 9/11.

"I just had to be here," she said, tears welling in her eyes. "I remember that day."

That day was when the nation watched in captivated horror as the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York came crashing down after hijacked jetliners became missiles.

Then another jetliner slammed into the Pentagon. And still another doomed airliner plunged into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers managed to deprive the terrorists of their intended target.


That day, Franks-Erickson was escorting her kindergarten class to the music room when she saw a group of high school students huddled around a television in the school commons.

That's when she learned her country was under attack in ways few ever imagined.

"I just stood there," she recalled, "and wept."

On a calm and sunny Sunday morning, a day set aside for shedding and wiping away tears, Franks-Erickson stood in a crowd of observers at the center of the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

This was the site emergency responders chose to give a memorial tribute to those who gave their lives on 9/11.

They remembered, as someone later would write following the attacks, "the men who went up while others were going down" - a reference to the New York City firefighters and other emergency responders who climbed the burning towers as others fled.

Troy Parkinson also remembered. Now living in St. Paul, the Fargo native stood with his niece and nephew and watched the ceremony.

His brother, their father, is Jeff Wallin, a Moorhead firefighter who played the bagpipes in Sunday's ceremony.


"I'm here to pay respects to those fallen in 9/11, and to do it here as a community in Fargo-Moorhead is important," said Parkinson, who wore a peace symbol around his neck. "It brings it home when you have a personal connection, but as a country we mourn as well."

On the morning of 9/11, he worked in Fargo as a video producer. He was attending a workshop at the downtown Radisson. The workshop host decided to carry on, but Parkinson found it hard to concentrate and zoomed to a television during breaks.

His niece Sierra Parkinson, 11, doesn't remember the fateful day, and her 9-year-old brother, Alex Wallin, wasn't yet born - both members of a generation that has grown up in the towering shadow of 9/11.

At the appointed time, emergency responders from Cass and Clay counties marched in procession, each carrying a floral wreath, and then met in the middle of the bridge.

A ladder truck from the Fargo Fire Department and one from the Moorhead Fire Department waited at the center of the bridge, their ladders extending over the river.

A firefighter from each side of the river climbed with a wreath to the top of his department's ladder as colleagues carrying axes stood in formation, flanking the podium.

The Rev. Steve Burrell, chaplain of the Fargo Fire Department, spoke a few solemn words of prayer.

Citing a commemorative 9/11 poem, the pastor spoke of the men and women who climbed the stairs of the burning towers with "fear on their hearts and faces" as fire and molten metal rained down.


Then all those present bowed their heads to observe a moment of silence. When the moment passed, the two firefighters, high overhead on their ladders, dropped the wreaths.

A gun line fired a 21-gun salute, which echoed off the walls of downtown buildings. Next, a bugler sounded the mournful notes of taps, and the bagpipe-and-drum corps followed with "Amazing Grace."

In the distance, on cue, sirens wailed, echoes of sirens that rang 10 years ago.

Afterward, Bill Bush, a Fargo firefighter in his dress blue uniform, waited to hand in the ax he'd carried in the ceremony.

He said all firefighters swear an oath when hired and that the job demands that they respond when the alarm goes off.

"You don't get to pick your scene or pick your call," Bush said.

Ten years ago, he added, the burning towers of 9/11 seemed far away at first. "It's now fully affected the whole country in many ways," he said. "The families that have sacrificed since - it means a lot."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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