First responders gather to remember 9/11 (video)

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Sept. 11, 2013 at 4:11 a.m.
Updated Sept. 12, 2013 at 4:12 a.m.

(TOP PHOTO) Police Officer Joshua Vaclavik salutes during the presentation of the colors at the 9/11 remembrance ceremony.

(TOP PHOTO) Police Officer Joshua Vaclavik salutes during the presentation of the colors at the 9/11 remembrance ceremony.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

At 8 a.m. local time, 14 minutes after the first and three minutes before a second plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, downtown Victoria church bells tolled.

Those remaining at DeLeon Plaza, where the annual Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony took place Wednesday morning, stopped and gave pause.

Fire Marshal Ron Pray raised his sleeve cuff, revealing a small metal bracelet engraved with the name "David Weiss."

"Ultimately, it's a tribute to those safety workers who ran in when everybody ran out," he said.

Weiss was a Rescue 1 firefighter and friend of Pray's after a trip several years earlier to New York City.

"It's hard for me on this day," Pray said. "It's the day they all died."

Pray was among the crowd of first responders, veterans and supporters at DeLeon Plaza gathered to honor and remember the emergency personnel who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001.

"These guys just did what they did," he said. "They just did what they loved. They risked their lives to save someone else."

Pray's son, Ethan, was in diapers when the twin towers fell.

Now 13, he looks up to his dad, as others do, to keep the memory of that day alive.

"My son has no clue; he was a baby," Pray said. "Those guys went to the call of their community."

With the familiarity of a Victoria ritual started more than a decade ago by Doris Kleiber, Mayor Paul Polasek, County Judge Don Pozzi, Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor, Fire Chief Tanner Drake and Police Chief J.J. Craig each addressed the crowd.

"Time has the ability to erase memory," Drake said.

With symbols of their tight-knit family - badges, uniforms, collar brass and patches - each emergency responder is connected in some small way to fellow responders in New York, he said.

Drake took time to also honor the first responders dealing with cancer and other health issues as a result of the attack.

Kleiber called the ceremony "precious."

"I appreciated every bit of it," she said.

Her goal is to pass it on.

"It will go on forever; they deserve to be remembered," she said.

Since Victoria started hosting a remembrance ceremony, it has grown, Kleiber said.

"More people are remembering," she said.

As a new generation grows up having never experienced the attack, Pozzi urged the audience to continue to fight the battle for freedom.

"We will remember them today and tomorrow and every tomorrow thereafter," he said.

O'Connor urged the audience to carry the date forever.

"We are the messengers going forward," he said.

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