HARLINGEN — Jamie Swander stopped to catch her breath after climbing five flights of stairs and then walking back down again.
“It was nice to be able to walk it with local first responders and some of our coworkers to honor the lives that were lost on 9/11,” said Swander, who’d just participated in the Sept. 11 Memorial Stair Climb at Valley Baptist Medical Center on Tuesday morning.
“I do recall exactly where I was when I heard the news,” said Swander, a hospital pharmacy technician. “It was early in the morning,” she said, “so I was coming back off a school bus because I was a junior in high school.”
About two dozen police officers, fire fighters, hospital employees and other community members participated in the annual event at Valley Baptist-Harlingen Medical Arts Pavilion Staircase #23.
A U.S. flag dangled from a Tower One Ladder rising into the gray sky. There was the ringing and rumbling of fire engines idling as if in anticipation of a somber event.
“We are doing this in remembrance of the 343 firefighters who died in the line of duty on 9/11,” said Maru De La Paz, business development manager and EMS liaison for Valley Baptist.
“They died trying to save the lives of civilians that were trapped in the tower including children,” she said.
Harlingen Fire Chief Rafael Balderas spoke to the groups gathered now under misting rain.
“Today marks the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks,” Balderas said. “The event of this tragic day ended with hundreds of innocent Americans murdered and hundreds more dying due to the exposure to ground zero. It is up to us who witnessed this to make sure the sacrifices made on that day are never forgotten.”
That slogan seems to have resonated through the years until the present moment.
Mayor Norma Sepulveda said we must never forget those sacrifices that day 21 years ago.
“This is a wonderful event that happens every year in memory of those who lost their lives and families that are still affected,” she said.
Harlingen Police Officer Benito Bravo thought about the lives lost that day as he climbed the stairs and back again.
Bravo said he became a police officer in response to 9/11.
“I wanted to protect my family,” he said. “My daughter at the time was three years old, and I had a baby on the way. I figured the best way I could go about protecting them was becoming a police officer.”
To see more, view Brownsville Herald photojournalist Denise Cathey’s full photo gallery here: