September 11, 2001 is a day that no one in America will soon forget. I am sure that anyone over the age of 20 can remember where they were when they heard the news of the attacks. Yes, some probably say they know where they were because their parents or siblings told them where they were, but the memory is still the same. The thoughts of disbelief, horror, loss and so much more. On this, the 15th anniversary of that devastating day, we need to stop and take a moment to remember those that gave everything that day, as well as their loved ones that are suffering each and every day.
Yesterday, as part of this memorial celebration, Pierce Mfg of Appleton, once again, sponsored the “9/11 Memorial Stair Climb” at Lambeau Field to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. I missed the event last year because we were out of town, but thanks to some last minute changes in plans, I was able to attend this year.
To say that it was a memorable event doesn’t even begin to explain all of the emotions that go along with an event like this. With this event, everyone is invited to come out to the stadium and climb the equivalent of 110 stories – the height of the World Trade Center. Each climber is given a badge with the name and photo of one of the fallen firefighters, so they can complete the climb with them. At the equivalent of 78 floors (the last floor that firefighters made it to), there is a bell for you to ring, in honor of your fallen firefighter. Wow. What a moving, emotional, yet simple action.
I was able to get the the stadium early (I had not idea how many people were going to be there and I actually still had to register!). Although there were not many people there yet (I think the rain kept too many people from getting there too early), the crowd quickly grew! Since I was near the front of the line, I was able to get myself registered and then bring my shirt and coffee mug back to the car with plenty of time to spare. I was amazed with the lines! As I was walking back to the car, the line of people who were registering on-site went around the building almost to the next gate! Then I looked the other direction… the line of those people that registered online and were just picking up there stuff went around the other way, again, around the corner to the next gate!
Knowing that I had some time to spare, I decided to take a walk around the stadium and just take in the peaceful, quiet of the morning. As I was rounding the corner getting closer to the front of the stadium, I could hear the soft tones of a bagpipe. I just assumed that the music was playing through the speakers around the property. As I rounded the last corner and came down the ramp into into the Harlan Plaza, I was greeted with one of the most moving sights that I think I have ever seen (ok, maybe with the exception of actually visiting the 9/11 memorial in New York City). There in in the midst of the empty parking lot, in the soft rain, there was a single bagpiper playing. It was just him, the quiet of the stadium and an amazing tribute to those who gave everything.
This, in itself, made coming to the stadium worth it! Even now, I am sitting here struggling to find the right words to describe these rare, quiet moments.
Last year there were about 700 people that came out for the climb. At that time, they put out a challenge to everyone there…. to have 1000 climbers this year. In true Green Bay/Wisconsin fashion, we went above and beyond. At the last count that I heard, we had about 2,000 people that came out for the climb! This was the largest 9/11 Memorial Climb ever, across the country! No one cared that it was raining, we were there for a reason. To remember…
As we all slowly filtered into the stadium, we were reminded. This was not a race. There was not starting gun, no awards to those that finished first, in fact, there was no finish line. It was a time of reflection, memorials and dedication. Watching the hundreds of firefighters that cam out to support their fallen brothers was extremely moving. They were all out there, climbing in full gear. Some may have been stopping periodically but they never gave up. Many of the walked in silence with their brothers, determined to give everything they could, for those that ultimately gave it all.
I’m not even going to fill this post with more words, because I feel that no matter what I say, is anywhere near enough to say thank you to those that gave everything that day. Humbling is one that comes to mind.
I will leave you with this… The challenge was given before we started out climb. In 2015, we had 700 climbers, 2016 brought 2,000 together. We have been challenged to have 3,000 climbers next year! Will you be there? I know I will!