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Stirring Keynote Highlights 9/11 Park Forest Commemoration

Park Forest Fire Department personnel at the 9/11 commemoration Saturday.
Fire Department personnel standing in formation prior to the 9/11 commemoration Saturday. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Congresswoman Robin Kelly offered a stirring keynote address at the 9/11 memorial observance in Park Forest Saturday. The weather was sunny and crisp — a perfect summer morning, as it was 20 years ago in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When there was a “before,” before everything changed.

Mayor Jonathan Vanderbilt shared that he was a student at Rich East. Congresswoman Kelly was working in economic development in Matteson, Illinois, at the time, and was in a meeting in Dave Miller’s auto mall “planning our next Unity event.” She was there with leaders from Park Forest and other towns, she said.

“Dave Miller came in and said, ‘I know I joke around a lot, but this is no joke,'” the Congresswoman related. “And he proceeded to tell us that a plane hit the tower. I remember Pam Woodard jumped up because that was her company’s headquarters.”

She said she also “jumped up because I was born and raised in New York City, and the nucleus of my family lived there.” At this moment, there was a clear suggestion of “New York” in her speech, her Harlem accent breaking through, it appeared.

And, at that moment, I felt “9/11,” if that makes sense. And it seemed others did too. The crowd of perhaps 100 stood resolutely as Rep. Kelly continued. Members of the Park Forest Fire Department stood in formation at attention throughout the ceremony. Some of them appeared too young to recall first-hand the traumatic events of that day. But all stood with respect and dignity.

Congresswoman Kelly’s remarks, in their entirety, appear below.

There were children at the ceremony, millenials, young adults, adults with families, and those of us with graying hair, gray hair, or none at all. Off to the side of the Police and Fire Memorial where the event was held, a metal upright box stood, facing the American flag. Inside the box, a twisted shard from the World Trade Center in New York, the relic gifted to the Village several years ago.

Trustee Joseph Woods speaks with a man next to a relic of the World Trade Center
Trustee Joseph Woods speaks with a man next to a relic of the World Trade Center at the Fire and Police Memorial in Park Forest. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

There were Village officials, a man in a kilt solemnly playing bagpipes, and a lone bugler who played Taps, twice, at two select moments during the ceremony.

Flowers bloom at the base of the large flagpole at the Memorial — yes, a cell tower that flies a massive flag, this day at half-mast. State Rep. Anthony DeLuca was on hand, chatting with Village Manager Tom Mick, residents, village officials, and Congresswoman Kelly at different times. Police personnel were there as well, Chief Chris Mannino spoke, as did Fire Chief Tracy Natyshok.

Two veterans from Park Forest American Legion Post 1198 presented the Stars and Stripes to Mayor Jon Vanderbilt. And two veterans fired ceremonial shots into the sky, the sky from which people fell from the towers in New York, the sky from which jets plummeted in D.C. and Pennsylvania. These blasts were tame, controlled, formal, remembering a morning that was anything but.

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that America was under attack? It was a question on many of our minds as we approached the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, surfacing again this Saturday morning. We recall the ten-year anniversary of the attacks. That day still seemed close. Many of those who were children that terrible day still remembered and felt the pain of 9/11. Now, twenty years later, two decades hence, our millennials have no first-hand understanding of what that day and its immediate aftermath were like.

And so we remember.

Congresswoman Kelly’s remarks follow the photo gallery from Saturday’s commemoration.

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September 11, 2021
9AM CT – 10AM CT


Congresswoman Robin Kelly delivers the keynote address at the 9/11 commemoration in Park Forest Saturday.
Congresswoman Robin Kelly delivers the keynote address at the 9/11 commemoration in Park Forest Saturday. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Thank you for inviting me here to speak today.

The past 18 months have been a very challenging time for our nation, and we have all witnessed so much tragedy and hardship.

Today, under that weight, we gather together to remember a fateful day 20 years ago; one of the hardest days in our nation’s history.

It’s been 20 years since the terrible attacks of 9/11, and we’re still searching to find meaning from all the devastation and tragedy it brought to our front door.

When major, life-changing events occur people often say I remember where I was or what I was doing.

September 11, 2001, represents that for me.

I was sitting in Dave Miller’s auto mall with a group of people planning our next Unity event. Leaders from Park Forest and other towns, businesses, and organizations were in the room.

Dave Miller came in and said, “I know I joke around a lot, but this is no joke.” And he proceeded to tell us that a plane hit the tower. I remember Pam Woodard jumped up because that was her company’s headquarters.

I jumped up because I was born and raised in New York City, and the nucleus of my family lived there. My best friend worked right near the towers. I immediately called my husband crying and headed to Matteson’s Village Hall where I worked.

By that time another plane hit the towers, then a plane hit the Pentagon, and another crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I could not stop crying and I could not find my best friend or my mom, who told me the day before that she had to go to the towers. That was a horrible day.

I found my best bud and my mom very late that evening. My best friend shared that she was on the train and when she came up the stairs, she saw people jumping out of the windows of the towers. She still chooses not to really talk about it.

Fast forward, I flew home as soon as we could to hug my family and friends. And I wanted to see it for myself. Of course, it was much worse than tv can show.

The fire still burned, the smoke, the smashed cars, and fire engines, the carnage. As sad and horrifying as it was, it brought the country together.

As a New Yorker in Illinois, it often felt like New York against the world, especially when it came to sports, pizza, and some other competition between our cities.

But in the days and weeks following September 11, 2001, we were all Americans rooting for each other and New York to come back.

We were all rooting for our first responders and other heroes. We all grieved for the firefighters, police, and EMS workers who gave their lives trying to save others. We all grieved for the children and families of those who never came home from work or departed their flight.

So much bravery was shown that day and for many days and weeks to follow. The sacrifices that first responders are still paying for with their health goes on today.

The number of firefighters and police from around the country that came to New York to help out was so impressive and touching. The patriotism that was felt and shown was so heartfelt.

Despite how we might have felt politically there seemed to be no red or blue. We were just all Americans pulling for each other.

I wish we had more of that spirit today. I wish we could remember how we bonded together and how we were unified. We lost that unity and now we are so divided.

In remembering 9/11 and all the first responders, servicemen and women, and people who have lost their lives or been injured because of that day, my hope for us is that we find that unity again.

We need not go through any further tragedy to experience that unity. We CAN find that respect and that we reminder that we are all in this together just by reflecting on where we were, how we felt, and how we responded, on that terribly fateful day, 20 years ago this morning.

Before you leave here today, I urge you to remember where you were on 9/11, and how you treated your fellow Americans in the weeks following.

Our country has gone through tough times in the past 18 months. Many have experienced job loss, sickness, loss of loved ones, racially motivated attacks, and other hardships.

Please let today’s ceremony serve as a reminder of the compassion and unity that is possible when we remember that life is precious and that we are all in this together.

As you go into the world next week, let’s honor those who lost their lives 20 years ago today by working toward compassion, respect, and unity as Americans.

Thank you all again for being here today.


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