Oakland County gathers to honor 9/11, first responders

By: Jennie Miller | C&G Newspapers | Published September 13, 2011

 With a large flag draped over the Oakland County courthouse, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson addresses a gathered crowd Sept. 11 during a remembrance ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With a large flag draped over the Oakland County courthouse, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson addresses a gathered crowd Sept. 11 during a remembrance ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

PONTIAC — Franklin-Bingham Fire Chief Tony Averbuch was overcome with emotion during his speech at the Oakland County Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony Sept. 11.

Averbuch, who’s been in the fire service for two decades, was a part of a disaster response unit that deployed to ground zero in New York City in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks.

Only a few words into his keynote address during the ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Averbuch broke down.

“I’m sorry,” he told the gathered crowd as he tried to compose himself. “Ten years is not a long time.”

Averbuch spoke of the devastation he saw at ground zero.

“What kind of soul could have prepared such destruction?” he said he often asks.

It was the personal items that really affected him.

“The teddy bears, the cards, the photos, the messages to those who would not return home,” he said, adding that the experience was the worst thing he’d seen in his entire life.

But through the worst, he also saw the best — America coming together. First responders forging ahead. Teamwork.

Every day at mealtime, those working at ground zero were delivered cards made by children and sent from all over the country. Averbuch, through more tears, said he has two of those cards framed in his house as a tribute to that time.

“Never forget those that suffered on that September day,” he said.

Behind Averbuch as he spoke was a huge American flag that covered several stories of the Oakland County courthouse to commemorate the occasion.

County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said the flag, to him, symbolizes the outpouring of patriotism he saw following the events of Sept. 11.

“There were flags everywhere,” he said.

Patterson created a framed collage of pictures taken from across the state of American flags displayed in various cities. He calls it “Michigan’s Fall Color Tour.”

“We came together for love of country,” Patterson said.

The names of the 17 Michiganders killed in the attacks were read aloud, followed by a minute of silence.

Following Patterson’s ceremony, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard held the annual Michigan Fallen Heroes Memorial and Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony on the other side of the county complex.

The memorial brought together first responders from police and fire departments from all over the county, as well as from Detroit, Livonia and Midland.

They paid tribute to those who died on Sept. 11, as well as those who’ve died in the line of duty in the last year.

“Even after a decade of reflection, the loss of 9/11 remains difficult to grasp — today we remember them all. Citizens, firefighters, police officers, first responders, port authority workers and military personnel,” said Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

Bouchard spearheaded the creation of the Fallen Heroes Memorial several years ago.

“They work side by side out on the streets, and 9/11 reminded us that sometimes they die side by side,” Bouchard said. “This gives families a place to go to know that we haven’t forgotten their loved ones. Sadly, we know that we’ll be adding more names to the wall.”

Eight were added this year.

“The courage, devotion, heart, hope and dreams of these men and women will always live in our heart,” said Connie Bernal, mother of Kalamazoo police officer Eric Zapata, who was killed April 19.

“To all of you who wear the uniform, thank you, on behalf of a very grateful America,” said Congressman Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. “This country is still worth fighting for; it is worth living for; and yes, it is worth dying for.”