To commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and honor loved ones lost, a local family headed to Palm Harbor Tuesday where a permanent memorial honoring victims was unveiled.
The large crowd that turned out at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens was proof of Americans' strong desire to remember those killed in the attacks.
A thousand programs were printed for the memorial, and all were distributed to guests shortly after 9 a.m. When the ceremony started at 10:02 a.m., cars were still backed up on Curlew Road, almost all the way to U.S. 19 waiting to get in.
"There were easily 1,000 to 1,500 people at the memorial," said Keenan Knopke, president of Curlew Hills Memory Gardens.
The 9/11 memorial was more than a year in the making. It features a rusty steel beam pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. The beam is mounted between two granite towers that represent the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The courtyard memorial also includes granite monuments bearing the names of those killed in the attacks. Other granite markers honor victims on the downed planes.
The ceremony was emotional for those who worked tirelessly to make the permanent memorial a reality.
Knopke's voice quivered when he addressed the audience, asking those who had lost loved ones to stand.
The memorial had a special meaning for many in the audience.
Marge Stajk, 82, of Lithia, lost her son, nephew and two cousins in the attacks. She came to the ceremony with her daughter, Ellen Shelnutt, of Valrico. Stajk brought a framed photo of her son, Gregory Stajk, 46, who was with Ladder 13 in Manhattan and died while trying to save people in the North Tower. Stajk and her daughter found Gregory's name on one of the granite monuments at the memorial.
"He was a great kid," she said of her son.
"The ceremony was very nice. We are so glad we came," said Stajk.
Firefighters from a number of Tampa Bay communities honored their fallen comrades by attending or participating in the memorial.
Other participants included-
- The City of Dunedin Pipe Band, which performed in the procession and also performed "Amazing Grace."
- The Ozona Elementary Choir, which performed "I'm Proud to be an American."
- WFLA radio's Jack Harris was the master of ceremonies.
- Lowry Park Zoo's "Cyrus the Eagle" participated in the procession and ceremony.
The 9/11 memorial is open to the public. Curlew Hills Memory Gardens is located at 1750 Curlew Rd., Palm Harbor. Call 727-789-2000.