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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Honolulu remembers Sept. 11

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Petty Officer 1st Class Guy Gregg of the Pacific Fleet Band plays taps while a group representing Honolulu's first responders emergency medical, fire, police and civil-defense salute. The Sept. 11 memorial service yesterday at Tamarind Park downtown drew 300 people.

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Bobby Pedro, an emergency medical service district chief, shuddered to think what Honolulu would face if its buildings were attacked and said 9/11 has changed how first responders view their job.

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For former New Yorkers Christian Soto, left and Donna Cabell, yesterday's 9/11 ceremony was their first. Both saw the twin towers burn. Cabell, a Red Cross volunteer, said the event helped her grieve.

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Strangers held hands and bowed their heads during a moment of silence yesterday in Tamarind Park. Even the trade winds held their breath.

It was a moment for painful memory, a memorial service for a date Sept. 11, 2001 that Americans relive in agonizing detail on every anniversary.

Donna Cabell and Christian Soto, both ex-New Yorkers, stood in that quiet and recalled how they felt five years ago as they stared across the city and saw the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center. The Tamarind Park event was the first 9/11 memorial service they had ever attended.

Bobby Pedro, a district chief with the Honolulu Emergency Medical Services Division, stole a glance at the First Hawaiian Center across busy King Street and found himself thinking about what would happen if a hijacked airliner crashed into the 30-story building. He's a 33-year veteran of the lifesaving business, but that would still seem unthinkable.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann, his hand held tight by U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, offered a great, sad grimace while the congressman scowled, his eyes shut tight. They were the hosts of an event they hope to hold every year.

Three hundred people gathered at the park at Bishop Square for the solemn prelude to lunch.

Hannemann, who stood in front of 26 members of Honolulu's EMS staff, police and fire departments and civil defense office, asked the crowd to remember the people who rush to face danger while others are fleeing to safety "the first responders."

"We never want to see what happened in New York happen in our fair city," he said. "But if it should, we need to be ready, and we need to be prepared, and we need to feel confident in these men and women ... who are going to be ready at a moment's notice to put themselves at risk so we can be safe and secure."

Abercrombie told the crowd "to contemplate and think clearly" about 9/11 when hijacked airliners plunged into the trade center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field to understand the depth of loss of that day.

"Hopefully it will cause us all as human beings to reflect upon our lives, to build on that which went before us so that we can have clear insight as to where we need to go and need to do to honor that sacrifice," he said.

A Navy bugler broke the silence with taps at the ceremony's end.

Cabell, a 47-year-old Red Cross volunteer, said it was "deeply moving." She had lived the past few years overseas and needed this to connect with what she saw, smelled and felt after the attack, when she lived in Staten Island.

"I really feel this is helping me with my grieving experience," she said. "I haven't been around a group experience to grieve with others."

She brought Soto, a 54-year-old former cab driver from the Bronx whom she met in Hawai'i.

"To me, it was very depressing," he said. "I get very depressed this time of year."

Americans need to remember that their nation is at war, he said.

The possibility for war on the home front is so real that it has changed the way the nation's first responders view their job, said Pedro, the 56-year-old EMS veteran. Everyone has to temper their response with educated caution.

"We don't want to rush our people," he said. "It's better to be a live hero than a dead hero."

For those who think Hawai'i too isolated for an attack, Pedro offered two words: Pearl Harbor.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.