By Sarrah Peters
Next Tuesday is the 17th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that rocked the nation. The Gadsden Beautification Board will host its annual memorial service to remember those lost in the attacks at 5 p.m. at the Memorial Park at the intersection of 4th and Broad streets in downtown Gadsden.
Although last year the memorial service was rained out, the Beautification Board’s dedication has not been dampened.
The event will feature music from the Gadsden State Community College Choir. The Etowah Sheriff’s Department’s mounted patrol and the Gadsden Fire Department’s Honor Guard will participate in the event. Bagpipes and the military’s funeral song “Taps” will be played to remember those lost in the attacks.
The memorial also serves as an opportunity to remember where attendees were when the devastating tragedy occurred. Gadsden Beautification Board Secretary Bill Browning has shared his experience of the World Trade Center.
Browning had a history with the Trade Center and can recall it being built. He spent time in the buildings, watching a ship parade on July 4, 1976 and watching an aerialist Philippe Petite walk between the two buildings on a wire. Petite later “drew a skyline, the two towers and a stick figure walking a slender line between the two towers” on a board that he autographed for Browning’s brother. The piece was gifted to Browning, and now resides on his mantle. Browning often ate in the building. On Sept. 11, 2001, Browning was trapped in Florida watching in horror as the buildings fell.
“My ex-wife, a writer-producer for ABC News, covered the collapse of the towers from the front lawn of City Hall,” said Browning. “She broke her ankle fleeing when the first tower fell. I watched on a battery-powered television in a Tampa wallpaper store.”
In the confusion of the day, many thought the first plane hit the Trade Center’s North Tower in error, but Browning said that when the second plane hit the South Tower he “knew we were at war.”
Browning knew people killed in the attacks and people who worked to save people from the rubble of the buildings.
“Company One on Union Street in Park Slope in Brooklyn – my firehouse, by the way – lost every fireman in the house that day, 29 brave men,” said Browning. “The grandson of my neighbor carried a fireman’s boot around and collected over a million dollars.”
Browning will never forget the pain and sacrifice of the towers falling.
“The site draws me back every time I visit the city, the hair on the back of my neck stands and I get chilled,” said Browning. “It will always be hallowed ground.”