St. Augustine community remembers victims of 9/11 attacks

Retired FDNY firefighter reflects on his experiences that day

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John Westfield’s life changed forever at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when he learned of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and was summoned to respond to the tragedy.

“We grabbed all the tools we thought we would need to fight a 104-story monster,” said Westfield, a current St. Augustine resident and retired FDNY (Fire Department of the City of New York) firefighter. “As we marched toward the one still standing tower, we knew we had our jobs to do. But of course, I was thinking of my family.”

Westfield delivered these remarks as part of a special ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at the St. Augustine Fire Department’s main station on Malaga Street to remember those who were lost. The firefighter said he had just returned from a visit to the Gettysburg battlefield two days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Two days earlier, I had thought what those men had to have been thinking that day 138 years ago, as they marched toward what they knew had to be certain death,” Westfield said. “In all likelihood, in my opinion, they were thinking of their families.

“I cannot pretend to know what my fellow 343 brothers were thinking at that moment, but I imagine they were thinking of their families also as they achieved the greatest rescue in history but paid the greatest price,” Westfield added.

In addition’s to Westfield’s remarks, the ceremony included a presentation of the colors by the St. Augustine Police Department Honor Guard; an invocation by Father Tom Willis, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine; musical presentations by St. Augustine Firefighter Engineer Ed Purtill; and additional remarks by St. Augustine Fire Chief Carlos Aviles.

The ceremony also featured a minute of silence at 8:45am, timed to coincide with the time the first plane hit the first tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. In conclusion, the Fire Department conducted the “Striking the Four 5’s” by ringing its historic 1900 Fire Bell in four intervals of five rings each, to honor the firefighters, law enforcement officers, military personnel and civilians who died on 9/11.

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