Mary and Philip Drew, both of Glenburn, hold a flag containing the names of the victims of the September 11 attacks at the Bangor waterfront on Saturday. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

More than 100 people came to Bangor’s waterfront on Saturday morning to memorialize the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The event was put on by Bangor High School’s JROTC Battalion at the waterfront’s flagpole. The battalion conducted a wreath laying ceremony, fired a 21 gun salute and held a moment of silence to honor the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives that day. 

It was one of many events throughout Maine memorializing the events of Sept. 11. A similar gathering was held in Caribou with first responders and community members.

Jeffrey Sanders of Orono, a teacher at Bangor High School, spoke about being in New York City on the day of the attack. Sanders, who formerly lived in Queens, moved to Maine in 2003.

Sanders had woken up earlier than usual on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, so that he could vote in the New York City mayoral primary, which was later postponed because of the attacks. He was taking the subway to work when he first witnessed the smoke and damage to the World Trade Center.

From left (clockwise): Jefferey Sanders of Orono speaks about being in New York City during 9/11 at the Bangor waterfront on Saturday; Sen. Susan Collins stands during an event memorializing the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks at the Bangor waterfront on Saturday; Bangor High School’s JROTC Battalion leays a wreath to honor the nearly 3,000 victims of the September 11 attacks at event at the Bangor waterfront on Saturday. Credit: David Marino | BDN

Sanders said much of what happened next was something of a blur, but he remembers snippets. Arriving at work, he was able to watch much of what unfolded from his office building, including people jumping off the towers and the collapse of the North Tower.

He described the streets near the attack as in a state of utter pandemonium. He saw numerous dust-covered emergency vehicles screeching down the avenues. He took as much cash out of an ATM as he could because he thought the world was ending.

“The cool, collected New York ethos was gone,” Sanders said.

He also saw a car “violently” pull-over and someone inside begin to berate a Sikh man. There was an upswing in attacks against Sikhs after 9/11 because many members of the faith wear turbans.

The attack also affected him personally: Anthony Luparello, 62, who Sanders said was a relative, died in the South Tower, an incalculable loss for Luparello’s family.

“Today is about remembering what happened and honoring the people who died,” Sanders said. “And also looking back at how much our country has changed in the last 20 years.”

From left (clockwise): Bangor High School’s JROTC Battalion does a 21-gun salute at event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks at the Bangor waterfront on Saturday; Bangor High School’s JROTC Battalion at the Bangor waterfront on Saturday; Sen. Susan Collins watches a ceremony during a 20-year commemoration of the September 11 attacks at the Bangor waterfront on Saturday; Bangor High School’s JROTC Battalion practices their honor guard at the Bangor waterfront on Saturday. Credit: David Marino Jr. | BDN

Young and old attended the event, including several who were too young to remember the events of that day. Many had been born in the years after.

“If you try to look past history and ignore it, it’s just bound to happen again,” said Cameron Leicht, 18.

Mary and Philip Drew, both of Glenburn, held up a flag throughout the ceremony containing the names of the victims of the attack.  

“Freedom is not free,” Mary Drew said. “You have to fight to keep it.”

Sen. Susan Collins also attended. For her, the lessons of 9/11 20 years on were twofold: the heroism shown by the military and the ability for the United States to counter-attack.

“It took a long time, but Osama bin Laden, who planned the attack, was brought to justice,” Collins said.

Collins said the attacks also showed the importance of a strong national defense and intelligence community. She was particularly concerned about the threat of future attacks now that the Taliban have control of Afghanistan.

Collins was the chief sponsor of a bill that created the Director of National Intelligence position, which sought to increase coordination between agencies many saw as lacking in the leadup to 9/11.

“We have to watch Afghanistan very closely,” Collins said. “Because I fear it will once again become a safe haven for terrorist groups.”

It was one of a few 9/11 ceremonies in Bangor that day. The Bangor International Airport held one beginning at 8:46 a.m., the exact time that morning that American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, beginning the attacks. Another was planned in front of the Paul Bunyan statue at 1 p.m.

In Caribou, Fire Chief Scott Susi reflected on how the attacks changed the way the nation thought about first responders, and how first responders see themselves.

“When you watched the TV [coverage], you never saw any of them question what they were doing,” Susi said. “They all went back to do what they had to do.”

Since then, Susi said that even in far-flung and rural fire departments, the job has changed significantly. National Incident Management System training became a requirement for all firefighters, for example. 

But beyond major security changes, Susi said the personal impact and family tragedy of the event was equally influential for first responders.

“I lost somebody in the brotherhood. I lost somebody that does essentially what we do,” Susi said. “When you look at New York Fire, it was a family institution: father, brothers, sons. You might have had two, three, four generations in New York Fire. Some families on 9/11 lost four generations of firefighters in one day.”

“It made us open our eyes to realize: don’t take anything for granted,” Caribou VFW Commander Roger Felix said. “Freedom is never free. It has to be fought for. It has to be preserved.”

At Saturday’s ceremony, Caribou’s ladder truck flew an American flag and a 9/11 commemorative flag over Main Street, and the department parked its other trucks in the front lot of the fire station. The Fort Fairfield Fire Department brought a truck as well. Representatives from Collins’ and Rep. Jared Golden’s offices spoke about the impact of the attacks.

Meanwhile, 13-year-old Gage Theriault and 17-year-old Nathan Morrow spent most of the morning walking up and down High Street with an American flag. Neither were alive when the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon 20 years ago, but they said they knew the event shaped the world they live in.

“We just want to walk and honor everybody that passed away and died and all the people that fought to try and save a lot of people,” Theriault said. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Jeffrey Sanders’ name. It has been corrected.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Nathan Morrow’s name. It has been corrected.

BDN writer Hannah Catlin contributed to this report.