The annual ceremony at Columbus City Hall to remember victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, always has been solemn and reverent.

But for many of the 140 people who attended the observance Monday, the 16th anniversary had additional meaning and significance.

Although chairs were set up as they are every year, each emergency responder, government employee, child and others who attended chose to remain standing throughout the 20-minute remembrance.

It was a heartfelt tribute for people in Florida working to save lives after Hurricane Irma struck Sunday, as well as others who carried out rescues in Texas late last month following Hurricane Harvey, Columbus Fire Chief Mike Compton said.

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“As our hearts are with the South, we find solace that at this very moment, there is a citizen hero helping someone in their time of need,” Compton said.

The ceremony began with a single toll of the bell to represent the first plane – American Airlines Flight 11 – striking the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Moments later, the voice of dispatcher Emily Moore could be heard as she gave the following tribute on an emergency dispatch channel.

“Attention all units and stations. On September 11, 2001, at 08:46 hours, the events on this day changed our lives forever. In honor of the memory of the courageous police officers, fire fighters, paramedics and citizens, we thank them for their unselfish sacrifices they gave for this country. We continue to honor the heroes of 9/11, and shall be forever grateful for the men and women who serve as public safety officials and military throughout this country who guard our freedom each and every day.”

After several seconds of silence, the bell was tolled multiple times to honor emergency responders who gave their lives to the service of others.

At exactly 8:46 a.m., bagpiper and Columbus Fire Dept. Deputy Chief Mike Kutsko played “Amazing Grace.”

While 343 of his fellow firefighters died on 9/11, Compton chose in his remarks to focus on Welles Crowther, an 24-year-old equities trader who saved at least a dozen lives at the World Trade Center before he was killed during another rescue attempt.

Crowther “illustrates the courage and valor that everyday American citizens demonstrate during times of adversity,” Compton said. “He personifies not only the American spirit, but the human spirit.”

On the day when nearly 3,000 Americans died in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, Mark A. Pillar of Columbus was serving as an Air Force general. He was about to begin a week of military exercises at the U.S. Strategic Command, one of nine unified commands in the Department of Defense at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

But after receiving word of the attacks on the World Trade Center, “we cancelled the exercise, and went into real-world operations,” said Pillar, the ceremony’s guest speaker.

As he found himself just a few rows behind then-President George W. Bush only hours after the first attack, Pillar was one of many high-ranking military officials quietly worrying about friends after learning another plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

Pillar’s own fear was realized after learning that Lt. General Timothy Maude, an Indianapolis native, had died during the crash, he said. Maude became the highest ranking U.S. military officer killed since the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

Despite the death and destruction, the attacks had the opposite effect from what those who planned it had intended, Pillar said.

“As profound as it was, this loss did not break the soul of this nation,” Pillar said. “It made us stronger. That day fortified Americans with pride and patriotism, creating a spirit of service in the hearts of a new generation.”

The observance was concluded as Kutsko played “Amazing Grace” one final time while walking past the flag-filled lawn of City Hall toward the Bartholomew County Courthouse.

Those flags were placed Friday by Columbus Signature Academy eighth-grade students at Central Middle School.

Ivy Tech ceremony

Students at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus recognized the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks during a special event at noon Monday, coinciding with the return of students for the fall semester. The brief ceremony including playing the national anthem, taps and folding of an American flag.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.