Among those in attendance was Rudy Andre, a former NYPD detective who helped sift through debris after the attack in 2001.
After a brief rain on the morning of Sept. 11, the American flag whipped in the wind as it was carried to end of the Flagler Beach pier, under a rainbow. The crowd gathered to hear stories, to sing and pray together, to remember.
After speeches by Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and Knights of Columbus District 17 Deputy Kevin Ryan, many dropped red roses toward the blue-green water below.
'The help I could give'
Rudy Andre was one among many in uniform on the pier. He retired as a detective in Harlem with the New York Police Department in 1979 and moved to Flagler Beach in 1992. When the towers were attacked, he booked a flight at his own expense and flew to New York City to find a way to help.
He ended up volunteering for a month, sifting through hundreds of millions of tons of World Trade Center debris on a conveyor belt, at a landfill.
“It was probably the hardest thing I had to do,” he said.
He saw hundreds of shoes. He remembers that their treads were partly worn out, and many still had laces tied. It was harrowing to think how the shoes had remained intact while those who wore them had not.
His objective at that conveyor belt was to find ways to identify those who had been killed. One woman was identified by a Macy’s credit card. Another man by his revolver. A firefighter was identified by fingerprints on a left hand that came through the debris.
But he found that the debris, which was four inches deep on the conveyor belt, was moving too quickly for the volunteers to be truly thorough. So he left his post and brought a rake and a pail to the end of the line, so he could be a second set of eyes.
“I identified hundreds that way,” he recalled. “It was the help I could give.”
When Andre came across a glass shard from a World Trade Center window, he plucked it off the conveyor belt. Typically, he keeps it on display on a mirror with some other items at his house, and it was on display for some time at the Flagler Beach Historical Museum, to help everyone remember what happened on Sept. 11.
But on the Flagler Beach pier, he had it in a pocket in his uniform.
“I keep it close to me this particular day,” he said.
'Never seen again'
John Feind, a former four-term Flagler Beach city commissioner, arrived at the pier ceremony in the uniform he wore as a captain before he retired from the Newark Police Department. He knew at least one person who died on Sept. 11, 2001: Anthony Infante.
Feind was in charge of the cadet program in the police academy many years ago, and Infante was one of the recruits he oversaw. Later, Infante became a deputy chief for the Port Authority.
“They saw the plane strike, and he and his staff got on the tubes and were never seen again,” Feind said, referring to the New York subway system. “I think about him on Sept. 11.”
'Surrounded by heroes'
Kevin Ryan, deputy for District 17 of the Knights of Columbus, spoke at the ceremony on the pier and recalled knowing Michael Judge, who was identified as the first person to have died on Sept. 11.
“We are surrounded by heroes,” Ryan said. “He is only one of many. But he was a shining example for us to remember that we are here for a much bigger purpose, and that’s to take care of each other. … These heroes run to danger. They continue to run to danger.”
Mourning in uniform
One New York Fire Department firefighter served in his own way. Michael Pugliese retired in July 2001, just two months before after the towers fell.
“I had my bags packed,” he said, planning to go downtown and help.
But his wife didn’t want him to go, fearing it would be too dangerous. Instead, he wore his uniform to dozens of memorial services and funerals. His uniform became his symbol of mourning.
Pugliese moved to Flagler Beach 10 years ago and dropped a rose off the pier at the end of the ceremony.
Running to danger
Staly shared a story of John Perry. The text of his speech is as follows:
"Nineteen years ago, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, off-duty police officer John Perry, of the 40th precinct in the Bronx, went to police headquarters to file his retirement papers.
"When he heard the explosion as hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center, Tower one, he raced to the site without hesitation.
"Sadly, like many others, Officer John Perry never returned. I don’t think anyone would have blamed him if he had decided to stay behind that day. But, he was a cop, through and through. He knew what he had to do.
"He, like so many other first responders, ran toward the danger, not from it — many for the last time.
"2,977 people died in the attacks on September 11, and many more have passed away since, due to illnesses they contracted running into the World Trade Center buildings to help others. Over 400 first responders are among the dead.
"Today, we mourn their loss, share their stories and commemorate their incredible valor. The men and women lost that day will forever live on in the hearts of family members who love them, the friends who remember them and a nation that honors them, now and forever. We will never forget! May God continue to bless their families and our nation!"