Wolfeboro Police Chief Dean J. Rondeau, a retired U.S. Army colonel, made an appeal for unity Saturday at the town’s commemoration of the 9/11 attacks.
The ceremony was held at the Wright Museum of World War II, a conflict that began for the United States on Dec. 7, 1941, with a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 2,403 people, mostly military personnel.
In contrast, the terrorist attacks 20 years ago killed 2,977 people, mostly civilians, and Rondeau said he knew at the time that it would also trigger years of war.
“We as a nation sacrificed the cream of our youth, our treasure and as parents our innocence as many of us had children serving in far-off lands to fight the same war we had fought only a few years earlier,” he told about 100 people who attended the ceremony.
With the recent departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, America needs to remain vigilant, he said.
“Our enemies are still out there, al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, they still exist,” he said.
“America still has many enemies. Our old traditional foes still want to end this experiment we call democracy,” Rondeau said.
He added: “We must come together, not as a specific race, or religion or anything else, but simply as Americans united in our beliefs in fairness, humanity, democracy and self-government.”
Rondeau pointed to the Abraham Lincoln quote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
“That is as true today as it was in 1858 when he delivered that speech,” the chief said. “Let us come together as we did on 9/12. Let’s do this. Let’s roll.”
Inside the museum are relics of World War II — tanks, rifles, uniforms. Outside was parked a ladder truck from Elmont, N.Y., which covered the Queens fire station after that station’s firefighters deployed to the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Many New York firefighters never came back. A total of 343 FDNY firefighters died at the Trade Center towers.
Wolfeboro Fire Chief Thomas Zotti noted that 26% of the U.S. population was born after Sept. 11, 2001, and the event may not be prominent in the minds of young people.
“A baby born on 9/11, 2001, is either in the workforce now or a college junior,” he said.
Zotti said the attack “changed the paradigm.”
“Never before had the continental U.S. been attacked by a foreign country,” he said. “Wars and terrorism were for the most part somewhere else.
“It was easy to say it can’t or won’t happen here. 9/11 brought it home. Now we all live with the knowledge sometimes buried in the back of our minds, sometimes in the forefront that something like this could indeed happen again.”
He also mentioned the delayed death toll from 9/11.
“Every day police officers, firefighters and others who responded to the Twin Towers are dying of cancer and related illnesses associated with what they were exposed to during that response,” he said.
Americans who lived through and clearly remember the events of 9/11 have a responsibility, Zotti said.
“It falls on us to make sure we never forget.”
The event was organized by Bob and Lindy Viscio of Wolfeboro. He is a retired airline pilot and she is a retired flight attendant.