Town fire departments hold 9/11 memorial ceremonies

Sep 11, 2021

The Onset Fire District and Wareham Fire Department held small memorial ceremonies on Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. 

The ceremonies honored the first responders and civilians — one of whom had ties to Onset — who lost their lives in the attacks. 

Throughout the morning on Saturday, the department’s fire alarm operator made radio announcements at notable times — such as at 10:03 a.m. when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, or 10:28 a.m. when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed — in memory of those lost.

Just after 10 a.m., a small crowd gathered at the Onset fire station for the brief memorial ceremony, which began with opening remarks from Fire Chief Jeffrey Osswald. 

He explained a few of the rituals that were being performed at the ceremony. 

“We’re going to lower the flag to half-mast. That was a tradition that was started in the 1600s by sailors. They would lower the flag to show the invisible flag of death,” he said. “We’re going to be ringing the ceremonial bell, which is our memorial to the past fallen firefighters of the Onset Fire District.” 

He said that was significant because it signals that “in this instance, people are returning home.”

Osswald said the firefighters in attendance were wearing mourning bands over their badges. 

“That is modified from the tradition of family members wearing black mourning bands on their arms when they lost a family member,” he said. “Like this ceremony, we do that to honor the ones who’ve gone before us, so we never forget.” 

In attendance, Osswald noted, were family members of Peter Gay, who was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 — the plane that hijackers flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.

Gay, a Tewksbury resident who had family ties in Onset and spent many summers there, was among 76 passengers and 11 crew members who were killed in the 9/11 attacks after five hijackers took control of the Los Angeles-bound plane.

Peter Gay’s brother Willie Gay, his sister-in-law and Cheryl and his nieces Dara and Leah attended the ceremony at the Onset Fire Department. Osswald thanked them for attending and expressed his condolences. 

Captain Ryan Quinn led attendees in a prayer. Lieutenant Robert Feeney read the firefighter’s prayer. Osswald and Captain Jeff Dias shared the words of Fire Chaplain Mychal Judge — the FDNY’s chaplain on 9/11 and the first official casualty of the attacks. 

“He said, ‘There are good days and bad days. Up days and down days. Sad days and happy days. But never a boring day on this job,’” Dias read. “‘You do what God has called you to do. You show up. You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig, you go out, and you do your job — which is a mystery and a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig — no matter how big, no matter how small — you have no idea what God is calling you to do. But he needs you. He needs me. And he needs all of us.’”

The ceremonial bell was rung and the flag was lowered to half-staff during the ceremony. 

Osswald thanked everyone who attended and particularly expressed gratitude for those who he serves alongside every day. 

“Even today, knowing what happened 20 years ago, they’re in uniform,” Osswald said. “They give their all. They’re away from their family, and they put their lives on the line every day. I can’t thank them enough for that.” 

He also noted that the ceremony in Onset was part of a larger day of remembrance. 

“This is a small ceremony for us, but is a major ceremony across the country,” he said. “The thousands of people who were lost that day will be remembered in ceremonies like this.” 

When the ceremony ended, Onset firefighters drove flowers from the station to the stone bench dedicated to Peter Gay on Onset Avenue. Cheryl Gay explained that Peter’s coworkers at Raytheon fundraised for and purchased the bench, which was installed at a site overlooking Onset Bay a little less than a year after the 9/11 attacks.

At one time, Willie Gay explained, you could see right across the Bay to the family’s cottage at Point Independence. Now, some overgrown brush obscures the view. 

Gay’s family members thanked the Onset department for their service and for recognizing Peter. 

Across town, the Wareham Fire Department was holding a small ceremony of its own. During the ceremony, a fire bell was sounded in four rounds of five — “the traditional alarm to designate a firefighter fallen in the line of duty,” according to a department press release. 

Wareham Fire Chief Matthew Rowley read the firefighter’s prayer at that ceremony as well.  

“We will never forget the heroic sacrifice of our first responders and the lives lost as a result of that fateful day,” the department said in a statement. “God bless America.”