Remembering the unforgettable

Gathering at new Juneau memorial evokes a sense of community

Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2002

People mourned, celebrated, dared to hope, reached out and knew they weren't alone as they remembered Sept. 11, 2001, during two memorial services in Juneau on Wednesday.

Nearly 200 people including firefighters, police, members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers huddled around a granite monument commemorating servicemen and women who died Sept. 11 as well as local law enforcement personnel. The Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary Club used the midday ceremony as a way to thank local authorities as well as dedicate the monument, a permanent fixture at Riverside Rotary Park.

Several speakers took the stage at the ceremony with messages of honor, bravery and courage displayed by law enforcement last year and every day. Speakers included Valley Rotary President Max Mertz, Mayor Sally Smith and Rep. Bill Hudson.

The Rotary also presented Sgt. Ben Coronell with Rotary's Police Officer of the Year award which came with a free cruise for two, a donation from Princess Cruise Lines. Coronell accepted the honor with his mother at his side. Getting his award on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Coronell reflected on how the event changed him.

"This is a time for healing and reflection," said Coronell. "It makes me wake up and want to tell my family I love them. One of my regrets is that I don't tell them I love them enough. I just feel like I never get around to it. But this reminds me to do that more."

Lt. Walt Boman said he was honored the community was rallying around the police and fire departments of Juneau.

"It just means a lot," said Boman. "Oftentimes we are dealing with people at their worst. So to get this kind of support - I really appreciate it. And I'm very proud to be associated with the people who gave their lives that day. ... I'm very proud to be a police officer."

The memorial service brought back memories for George Reifenstein, volunteer chief for the Auke Bay Fire District. He said he remembers seeing television footage of firefighters running into the flaming towers in New York.

"Just tears - when I saw that - that's all, just tears," said Reifenstein. "Just knowing what they were going through, and what they were feeling, and thinking going into those buildings. ... It was a reaffirmation of my commitment as a firefighter."

About 350 people gathered to remember Sept. 11 at the community remembrance event at Centennial Hall later Wednesday. Families, couples and individuals came out with expectations of healing and hopes for peace.

"I came here in remembrance of the horrific things that men can do to other men and to pray for peace," said Errol Arnaud. "It helps the community stay together. ... It helps us to remember that God calls all of us to be sisters and brothers. It helps us to remember God is love."

Speakers at the service included Catholic Bishop Michael Warfel, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, local priests and ministers and state Sen. Kim Elton.

Elton told those gathered that events such as the attacks of Sept. 11 test the character of a nation.

"As horrible a tragedy as I know this was, I know we're going to survive," said Elton. "Tragedies like this reveal the underlying character of the nation. ... Our character has been tested so many times before. Our history is replete with challenges. I believe we have the character to rise to meet them."

The Rev. Jay Olson, with the Presbytery of Alaska, said during her speech that she was struck at the way human beings reach for each other in times of crisis. She described the scene of a man and a woman holding hands as they leapt to their deaths from the World Trade Center's burning Twin Towers.

"It's true in the end we die alone," said Olson. "But before that, they reached for each other. Their hands met. ... His hand in her hand, nestled in each other with extraordinary naked love. Two strangers reaching out for each other and finding each other in the face of horror and tragedy.

"Love is why we are here."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at

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