With the slow tolling of a bell, more than 100 firefighters, police officers and first responders came together in Pioneer Park Saturday to remember victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The annual tradition honors the 2,977 people who died in the attacks, as well members of the U.S. Armed Forces who continue to fight the war on terror.

Special tribute was paid to the 343 firefighters and 71 law enforcement personnel who died on Sept. 11, 2001, primarily during the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers.

About 100 community members attended Saturday’s ceremony, including a number of families with small children.

“Thank you for coming,” Lewiston Fire Chief Travis Myklebust told them. “We continue to keep the promise we made 20 years ago, that we will never forget.”

The Clearwater Pipes and Drums bagpipe group led off the ceremony. Piper Reed Wilson said the band essentially got its start because of 9/11.

Firefighters in Lewiston noticed that the New York firefighters who died that day were all buried with bagpipers playing at the funerals.

“They got interested in starting (a piper corps) here,” Wilson said. “I came down from Moscow to teach them. I’ve played at every one of these (annual 9/11 ceremonies), except for one.”

Dan Button didn’t bring play any musical instruments, but he did dress up in a tie and jacket and carry a small American flag.

“The tie and jacket are a sign of respect,” Button said.

As with so many other people, the events of Sept. 11 changed the trajectory of his life.

Button, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, was in Washington, D.C., the day of the attacks, serving at the National Defense Intelligence Agency.

After hearing that a plane may be heading towards the city, he stepped outside to see if he could spot anything.

“I was looking across the Potomac River towards Reagan Airport,” he said. “I saw the mushroom cloud rise from the back side of the Pentagon,” after it was hit by the third hijacked plane.

In the days and weeks after the attacks, the Marine Corps formed an anti-terrorist brigade – something it had never had before. Although he was planning to retire in six months and had already submitted the paperwork, he was assigned to be the brigade’s chief intelligence officer.

The brigade included a reinforced rifle company that flew to Kabul, Afghanistan, to reopen the American Embassy in 2002. The embassy had been closed in 1989, during the civil war that began after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from the country.

“That was the same embassy building where we lowered the flag two weeks ago,” Button said. “So there’s a lot of extra emotion right now for this old Marine.”

Although he downplayed his own service to his country, Button was happy to applaud the firefighters and law enforcement personnel for their service.

“They’re still fighting for us every day,” he said. At a time when COVID-19 cases are straining emergency services, “they’re putting their lives on the line. They and the nurses are my heroes.”

Saturday’s ceremony highlighted a busy day for local first responders.

Besides conducting a nearly two hour-long vehicle procession through Asotin, Clarkston and Lewiston immediately prior to their arrival at Pioneer Park, several agencies also helped kick off the Lewiston Roundup parade down Main Street Saturday morning.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.