Athol remembers 9/11

  • Athol Fire Department bagpiper Todd Bowdridge playing "Amazing Grace" at Saturday's 9/11 memorial service. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski shares some personal thoughts on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Some of the firefighters on hand for Saturday's 9/11 memorial salute as the Pledge of Allegiance is led by Athol Selectboard Chair Rebecca Bialecki. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Athol Selectboard member Mitchell Grosky sings "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at Saturday's 9/11 remembrance as Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera listens. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera, at podium, recites a brief history of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as members of his department listen. Staff photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/12/2021 4:35:29 PM
Modified: 9/12/2021 4:35:30 PM

ATHOL — On Saturday, Providence seemed to have provided as vivid a reminder as possible of the morning that hijacked airliners struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania two decades ago. The skies were bright blue and crystal clear — just as they had been on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Anyone from our area alive on that day likely still remembers it as near perfect a fall day as the northeast can offer. Perfect, that is, until being struck by the stunning news that America was under attack.

Twenty years later, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, Athol first responders were joined by residents from around the area to remember all those lost their lives that day — all 2,996 of them — as well as the more than 6,000 who were injured.

After opening remarks by Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera, and the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Selectboard Chair Rebecca Bialecki, Guarnera recounted the events of the morning that four passenger liners were hijacked by a total of 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists.

“At 8:45 a.m., on a clear Tuesday morning,” he related, “an American Airlines Boeing 767, loaded with 20,000 gallons of fuel, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Eighteen minutes after the first plane hit, a United Airlines Boeing 767 took a sharp turn and crashed into the 60th floor of the south tower.

“At this time, it became clear that America was under attack.”

Guarnera went on to note that, at 9:45 a.m., a Boeing 757 slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another Boeing jetliner, United Flight 93 out of Newark, N.J., had also been hijacked but the passengers aboard learned of the earlier attacks and, realizing their plane was also destined to be used as a weapon, overpowered the hijackers and crashed the airliner into a field in Shanksville, Pa.

In addition to the thousands of civilians and military personnel who died in the attacks, 343 members of the New York City Fire Department and 60 Port Authority and New York City police officers died while responding to the emergency.

Saturday’s ceremony included the raising and lowering of the American flag to half-staff and the offering of a prayer by Athol Call Captain Bruce Winters. He was followed by Athol Selectboard member Mitch Grosky, who read the 9/11 Prayer and followed with the singing of “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” Deputy Chief Jeff Parker then read the Firefighter’s Prayer. The Police Officer’s Prayer was read by Athol Police Chief Craig Lundgren.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski was then called upon to speak.

“The reason I wanted to participate in this,” he began, “is that I want people to remember that day 20 years ago. It was like a knife to the heart of the country. In the aftermath of that, however, the country came together. Politics didn’t matter. Gender didn’t matter. We were all humans, grieving the people that were lost, maybe worrying about friends that worked in New York — as I did, a good friend of mine — comforting our children, like my 11-year-old daughter.”

Continuing, Suhoski said, “Days after the attack — a day just like today — I was at a playground with my two oldest children. We lived in Gardner at the time, which is in the Logan Airport flight path, so jets are common coming down the Route 2 corridor.

“We hadn’t seen anything in the sky for days, and all of a sudden I heard a jet engine. Me and the kids look up, we see a commercial jet — something of that size — and we see another little speck right next to it. I don’t know what that was, but it was the first flight we had seen for three or four days after 9/11. That’s maybe what prompted my daughter’s concern at the time, and I tried to comfort her.

“So, I want to remember. You’re here because you care. You remember. Some of you probably went down to provide service in the aftermath. I will speak to my children. They need to remember.

“It was the worst day,” he concluded. “In the aftermath, it brought out the best of us.”

The ceremony concluded with the playing of “Amazing Grace” by Athol Fire Department bagpiper Todd Bowdridge.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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