What kind of person can we be today to honor another’s heroic sacrifice?

That question was raised in the final moments of a solemn ceremony Friday, as Cameron County hosted a ceremony to remember the victims and heroes of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

With a large American flag raised overhead by a fire truck outside the Dancy Building in Brownsville, first responders from departments across the county lined a sidewalk and listened as speakers reflected on the heroic aftermath that followed the horrific deaths of thousands of Americans as commercial planes were hijacked in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“It’s hard to believe,” Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino said. “I think all of us here were old enough to remember where we were at that moment on 9/11 and the impact it had on us individually and collectively, as a city, as a county, as a state, as a country, as a world.”

Trevino was taking his children, ages 6 and 3, to school and then watched news broadcasts from work.

“We saw the video—I’m sure all of you felt the same—and thought this cannot be happening. And yet we realized that it actually was. It wasn’t a movie, it wasn’t made up. It was going on,” Trevino said. “And then what happened the rest of that day and days is why we are here today. All those men and women, those first responders, those members of the fire department and the police department, of the port authority, of the military who rushed in for hours until they collapsed to save lives without regard for their own, but to do what needed to be done.”

The county judge referenced the Bible twice in his brief speech, first citing Jesus’ words: “No man has greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Trevino spoke of how first responders sacrificed in acts of love to their fellows.

“The aftermath of that day, the people covered in soot and silt, blood and hurt, those are images that are obviously going to stay with us,” he said. “I would ask each and every one of you to remember how we felt. We were scared. We were nervous. We weren’t sure what was next.

“Here in our part of the world, four days later, an unfortunate accident took the lives of (8) people when the causeway was hit and a piece of the causeway collapsed. I think y’all remember that. No one knew if this was connected to 9/11, that’s how insecure we felt. It turns out it was just a terrible accident, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.”

What happened after 9/11, the judge asked? Communities united across beliefs and politics, he said, calling for unity to reign again 21 years later.

“We made the priority, which I hope that we can continue to do as a reminder from today. We are all Americans, first,” Trevino said. “Treat your neighbor as you treat yourself. That’s what happened after 9/11.

“I know we live in a world that’s a little different than it was 21 years ago, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t return to that comfort, that sense of unity, that sense of community, that sense of service to one another.”

County Commissioner Gus Ruiz was a student at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg on 9/11. Leaving an economics class, Ruiz saw the news from televisions in the university hallways.

“The events of Sept. 11 has changed our lives,” Ruiz said. “It is said that every generation is measured by their reaction to their particular adversity.”

In the years after 9/11, Ruiz, a U.S. Marine, served in the war in Iraq, deployed as part of the nation’s War on Terrorism, with troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“We did our mission, right. We kicked butt,” Ruiz said. “And even though many of us are still haunted by the sights and sounds of Iraq, we wouldn’t have changed it. Why? Because us Americans we persevere and we kick butt. So 9/11 is a date to always remember the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, law enforcement and first responders, because together we all take the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, and together we all serve our communities.”

We owe our nation’s heroes something, Trevino suggested.

“If I can add one final thing before I end, and I mention this usually at our veterans ceremonies, either on Veterans Day or Memorial Day: The soldiers that have sacrificed in the military, the first responders who have given their lives in service to their community, we owe them something,” he said. “We owe them something. What is it that we can do today going forward? Let’s be that type of person, that type of American, that they can be proud of having served or given their lives for.”

Brownsville firemen salute Friday during the ceremony outside the Dancy Building in Brownsville. (Ryan Henry/The Brownsville Herald)

A color guard carries the U.S. and Texas flags up a sidewalk flanked by law enforcement and first responders from departments throughout Cameron County on Friday during a 9/11 ceremony in Brownsville. (Ryan Henry/The Brownsville Herald)

Brownsville Fire Department’s Pipes and Drums play as the American flag is presented Friday during a Sept. 11, 2011, remembrance ceremony outside the Dancy Building in downtown Brownsville. (Ryan Henry/The Brownsville Herald)

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino delivers a speech, reflecting on the aftermath of 9/11 during a ceremony Friday in Brownsville. (Ryan Henry/The Brownsville Herald)