Remembering 9/11 at THE PLAYERS Community Senior Center


As memorial services and remembrance events to mark the 15th anniversary of 9/11 occurred across the country, a luncheon was held Sept. 7 at THE PLAYERS Community Senior Center to pay tribute to that fateful day, and to honor the promise many Americans made to “never forget.”

Organized by Al Bagocius, director of care at Extension Home Care and former U.S. Marine, the event titled “A Day of Remembrance – 15th Anniversary of 9/11” featured four speakers from the community: Chaplain William Hesse, who provided the opening and closing prayers; Joe Snowberger, commodore and CEO of the USS Adams Museum; St. Augustine Beach Police Department Chief of Police Robert Hardwick; and Vitas representative Michael DiBella, each of whom gave a different take on 9/11 then and now.

The luncheon also featured special guest of honor Jerry Guadagno, an 88-year-old Jacksonville resident who lost his son, Richard Jerry Guadagno on United Airlines Flight 93.

Remembering the fallen

A 38-year-old Fish and Wildlife officer, Richard Guadagno was in New Jersey to celebrate his grandmother’s 100th birthday Sept. 10. The following day, his father drove him to the airport, and they said goodbye – neither of them knowing that it would be the last time they would see each other.

“We lost a good one,” Guadagno said of his son. “He was a wonderful young man; he was our Renaissance Man. He was into everything.”

Among his talents were handmade furniture and guitars, and photography. He also loved the outdoors and was the type of person who “could make things grow out of stone,” his father said.

In remembrance of the legacy Guadagno left behind, the Richard J. Guadagno Scholarship Fund was formed to provide assistance to undergraduate and graduate students in wildlife biology and natural resources. In addition, the National Recreation Trail’s 1,000th trail – the Rich Guadagno Memorial Trail, located in Oregon’s Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge where Guadagno once worked – was also named for him, as was the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge visitor center. Guadagno was project manager at the refuge, located in Northern California, and he supervised construction of the new visitor center, according to his father. The move to the new building was supposed to commence upon his son’s return from New Jersey.

Although Guadagno did not go to Pennsylvania for this year’s 9/11 ceremonies, other family members, including his daughter who lives in Jacksonville Beach, planned on attending.

Guadagno was on the commission for the Flight 93 National Memorial located near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The memorial is now operated by the National Park Service.

“Where the plane crashed, it was a strip mine – not very pretty,” Guadagno said. Now, with an abundance of trees and wildflowers planted at the site, it looks much different.

“It’s a beautiful place now,” Guadagno remarked.

As another tribute to his son and to ensure that the area around the memorial would not be developed, the Pennsylvania State Game Lands purchased nearly 700 acres of land and dedicated it to Guadagno and the other 39 passengers and crew of Flight 93.

Guadagno relocated to Jacksonville from New Jersey in 2004, and now, 15 years after the tragedy that changed lives forever, there is sadness and a sense of longing for his son.

“I like to talk about him,” he said as he fought back tears. “I think about him every day. He was just a great guy and accomplished a lot of things.”

His final accomplishment may well have been fighting back against the terrorists who hijacked the plane. According to reports, Guadagno, who was a federally trained law enforcement officer, is believed to have been one of the passengers involved in trying to retake the plane from the hijackers. His badge and credentials were recovered from the crash site.

Unsung heroes

Snowberger, a retired U.S. Navy Lt. Commander who worked in intelligence, was asked to speak about whether the United States is better prepared since 9/11.

Snowberger referenced a report he read by the Harvard School of Public Health regarding tragedy response. According to the authors of the report, the United States has indeed greatly improved its preparedness for coping with disasters, Snowberger noted.

“The authors kept encouraging officials not to forget one of the country’s strengths – the ability of ordinary people to help when disaster strikes,” he said.

One such hero, Snowberger said, was Benjamin Keefe Clark, a chef who was preparing meals for the people at the Fiduciary Trust Company on the 96th floor of the South Tower. Clark was credited with saving hundreds of lives, ensuring that people got safely out of the building. He reportedly returned to the office to ensure everyone had evacuated, but never made it out.

“I believe many people have a little bit of hero inside of them,” Snowberger said, “and sometimes all it takes is one person to get the ball rolling as it was in the case of Flight 93.”

Called to action

Chief Hardwick was a young police officer who had recently relocated to Florida to become a reservist after serving with the 82nd Airborne Division when 9/11 happened. He was called to active duty and did a 16-month tour in central Baghdad. He stated that there were numerous deaths in his unit.

“This is a very special day for all of us in here because it touched us in one way or the other and it will continue to touch us in one way or the other,” he said, adding that it has truly been a blessing to serve this country as a law enforcement officer and also as a U.S. service member.

Dibella, meanwhile, was a police officer in Stamford, Connecticut – just 34 miles from Manhattan – on 9/11. He and his fellow officers were on high alert that day – a day he immediately knew would affect him for the rest of his life.

DiBella noted that during those exhausting weeks during the aftermath of 9/11, he reflected on what it is to be an American and to be a police officer, saying that he felt the outpouring of community support toward all first responders.

“Please thank all your first responders, all your military veterans,” he said. “To all the families and the victims, we truly will never forget.”