Fairfax County For twenty years, it’s never been an easy day, the 11th of September. But the people of Fairfax County gather. Painfully, they recall the death and destruction, souls lost, and souls who forged forward united by compassion. On Saturday morning, Sept. 11, at the Fairfax County Government Center, many from across the county joined together.
More than 800 people turned out on A Day to Remember, the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, and VolunteerFest 2021. They were there to support first responders, remember the nearly 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attacks, and in tribute, transform 9/11 from a day of tragedy into a day of doing good.
Days earlier, Hollie D’Amico Gordon, manager of corporate service events at Volunteer Fairfax https://www.volunteerfairfax.org/ said they deliberately moved up their annual signature event to align with the observance of Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. VolunteerFest is an annual community-wide day of service that supports area nonprofits by adding volunteer power for wish list projects.
“For those of you who remember 9/11 as vividly as I do, you know, it was an eerily similar beautiful day that turned into a tragic day,” said Chairman Jeffrey McKay, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. He and several of his colleagues were there in remembrance and to help kickoff VolunteerFest, 2021. Steve Mutty is chief executive officer at Volunteer Fairfax who introduced public safety and elected officials at the event.
They recalled the loss of life, the collapse of the World Trade Center’s North and South Towers, and the gaping holes of destruction in the western rings of the Pentagon, in a field in Pennsylvania, and the hearts of many.
“It is right and just that we focus our undivided attention right now and reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to all the families without their loved ones today,” said Jason Jenkins, assistant fire chief Fairfax County Government. For many, he said, even twenty years later, the sadness and anger are forever etched in them. However, while tragic, Jenkins said, “It emphasizes preparedness, embraces interoperability,[and] ensures resiliency, all of which reaffirms our commitment to those we serve as we near 10:28 a.m.”
Sept. 11, 2001 also united many communities. People dropped everything to help others regardless of differences. McKay said people realized whatever they were doing at that moment was immediately unimportant compared to what was happening in our country. He recalled 184 people who died at the Pentagon. “But also, on that day, our first responders, their families, and our community stood up and said, ‘We will be resistant, and we will protect Fairfax County and the United States of America.’’
According to McKay, in the aftermath of 9/11, many individuals considered what they could do to help the community heal and how to do it better. “Many of us volunteered,” McKay said. “Most people in Fairfax County have stepped forward in unprecedented ways to serve and never forget the lives that were lost.”
In his remarks, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly said on 9/11, he was struck by the juxtaposition of people fleeing in terror down the steps of the Twin Towers while first responders were going up. ”People risked their lives to save others,” he said. Connolly recalled a monsignor part of the Vatican representation in Washington and that he observed the horror of people jumping out World Trade Center windows when faced with jet-fueled flames coming at them.
“But what this Monsignor observed was that total strangers … at the last minute held hands [as they jumped]. It was a statement of love and fraternity, where one victim said to another, ‘You will not be alone in these final moments.’ And that kindness suffused America that day and for months following,” he said.
According to Connolly, the terrorists who took over the planes targeted America because, “They wanted to destroy what we stood for, freedom and the inalienable rights….life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, unfettered here. We believe those are universal human aspirations; they’re not limited to us.” He added that twenty years later, Americans are fighting amongst themselves, and although the country lost nearly 3,000 souls that day 20 years ago, “in the last 16 to 17 months, we’ve lost 650,000.”
“We can’t agree on masks. We can’t agree on vaccines. We can’t agree on lockdowns or quarantine or contact tracing,” Connolly said. As we rededicate ourselves to try to come back together, we find what brings us together are commonly shared values, he said.
Don Graves, deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce, attended the remembrance and VolunteerFest kickoff. Graves said that as we remember the victims of 9/11 and honor the Americans who responded twenty years ago, he hoped that “we as a nation, in the midst of ongoing tragedy in the suffering and pain that our nation is finding and countless others around the world, that we come together as a nation.”
“Remember, all that binds us is greater than what separates us,” Graves said.
IN AN INTERVIEW a few days before the gathering at the Government Center, Mutty, CEO of Volunteer Fairfax, said on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he left home late and was stuck in traffic, “right next to the Pentagon.”
“I saw the whole thing in my rearview mirror,” Mutty said. At a dead stop and seated inside his vehicle only hundreds of feet from the Pentagon, Mutty watched American Airlines flight 77 fly into the building and erupt in a fireball. The crash, Mutty said, nearly took out the Pentagon helipad firehouse beside him.
So, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and officially kicking off Volunteer Fairfax’s 26th annual VolunteerFest involving over 800 people and more than 30 projects, Mutty said that day of service, on Sept. 11, 2021, “maybe more than any recent years, held special meaning for him.”
“It is a demonstration of our resilience and caring spirit. May that spirit continue to grow, and may we never forget what sparked that spirit on this morning 20 years ago.”