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Johnson County Finds New Ways During Pandemic To Remember Lives Lost On 9/11

First Responders, wearing masks, honor the lives lost on 9/11.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
First Responders, wearing masks, honor the lives lost on 9/11.

The 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks looked different across the Kansas City metro this year due to pandemic concerns.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Johnson County residents are finding new ways to remember those who served and died in the attacks on 9/11.

In previous years, residents headed to the 9/11 memorial at the Fire Department Training Center in Overland Park for an in-person ceremony.

Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner said the department made the difficult decision this year to switch to an online ceremony with just first responders.

“Ten years ago, we made promises to the New York Port Authority that when they invested in this memorial that we would be good stewards and we would provide reverent remembrance,” said Dehner. “So the idea of having to cancel the public viewing of the service, it was something we don't take very lightly at all.”

The department has been holding the service every year since the memorial was finished in 2014. This Friday’s ceremony followed in the tradition of the previous ones, beginning with the lowering of the flag while "Taps"and "Amazing Grace" were played on the bagpipes.

Bouquets were then placed at the memorial one at a time, at the exact time that each aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Dehner said the event is usually a very emotional experience for attendees, which is one of the main reasons the department decided to livestream the ceremony, allowing residents an opportunity to watch from home instead of risk exposure to the coronavirus.

“If you've been out to this 9/11 memorial event, people are hugging, hand-holding and those types of things, so we just feel that it was clear this would be the right course of action,” said Dehner.

He said he hopes by next year’s service things are back to normal, and the memorial will have a parking lot full of attendees.

Until then, he said he remains focussed on keeping the fire department safe as they continue to respond to the pandemic by treating and transporting COVID-19 patients.

“I think on 9/11, not only do we reflect on the lives lost and all that has been done since 2001, but something that I, as a fire chief, always reflect on is what public safety the Kansas City metro area has faced in the past year,” said Dehner.

Friday’s service was closed to the public, but the memorial is now open at any time to those wanting to honor the lives lost.

Special 9/11 Library Exhibit

The Olathe Library is hosting a special exhibit dedicated to the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11.
Olathe Library
The Olathe Library is hosting a special exhibit dedicated to the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11.

The fire department is also holding a special exhibit at the Indian Creek branch of the Olathe Public Library.

“We received that display from the fire department because they felt that due to social distancing and the COVID situation, their facility may not be able to accommodate as many people right now,” said the library’s manager, Bob Miller.

The exhibit features a picture of each of the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11 and a smaller piece of World Trade Center steel.

Miller said it is always important to remember our nation's history, even during the pandemic, adding the location of the display has made it possible for more people to remember 9/11 this year.

“We don't keep a number or a tally on how many people have been impacted, but we have a lot of people who come through. And when they come in, they may take a moment to stand and just observe,” said Miller.

The exhibit is located near the library’s front desk and runs until Sept. 18.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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