First Responders honored at 9/11 Memorial

Catholic Cemeteries hosts the first annual Sept. 11 Memorial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Kansas City. Police, firefighters, veterans and families remembered those who died saving others. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Sept. 11. Lowering sun, bagpiper in full kilt, men and women in uniform, flags waving, men in dark suits, a chaplain and a priest, a memorial listing the names of all those who died that day, and a cemetery bright with flowers. Sixteen years have passed, but we will never forget.

Catholic Cemeteries of Kansas City-St. Joseph joined with members of the American Legion Post 189, the VFW Fifth District, Kansas City, Mo. Police Chief Rick Smith, retiring Fire Chief Paul Berardi, Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Wagner, police and firefighters, Disabled American Veterans, Amvets, families of firefighters laid to rest at Mt. Olivet Cemetery and the Notre Dame de Sion High School choir to remember the 3,000 who died in or as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

A group of families, couples, young and old gathered at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kansas City in the soft, early evening light Sept. 11, watching and listening as bagpiper John Tootle led flag-bearing honor guards of police, firefighters and armed services in procession down a center aisle toward the memorial in the cemetery’s Legacy Garden.

As the honor guards, followed by three members of the Sons of the American Revolution in period dress, split up to stand at attention to the right and left of the memorial, Fire Chief Paul Berardi approached the podium. He recalled that day 16 years ago. “On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists tried to destroy the flag. But they couldn’t … First responders raised it up again. Today we honor it again.”

Catholic Cemeteries Director and Muehlebach Funeral Home owner Steve Pierce then rose. Following a short welcome, he introduced Chaplain David Baker of the American Legion, who led a prayer for service men and women and first responders. Father Richard Rocha of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph spoke next and also led a prayer for the first responders who gave their lives for the victims of Sept. 11, 2001 and for other of “those who died working to save others,” especially Kansas City firemen Larry V. Leggio and John Mesh, who were killed when the fire they were fighting caused a wall to collapse on them in Oct. 2015. The new KCMO Police Chief, Rick Smith, sworn in Aug. 15, recalled serving as a first responder in this city on Sept. 11. “The ones who run toward the danger and not away from it, they are who we remember and why we keep serving today,” he said.

Kansas City Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Wagner called it “a very humbling experience to consider the sacrifice they made.”

Fire Chief Berardi, who announced his retirement a week earlier, said Sept. 11 changed the world. “Appropriately, we will not forget our husbands and wives, our sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, co-workers and friends. None of us can know how long our grieving process will last.”

He held up a block of granite. “The fire department was presented with a piece of granite from the World Trade Center after Larry Leggio and John Mesh’s deaths two years ago.” The block is bound in leather and will hang at the Fire Department’s main offices, downtown.

Commander John Williams of American Legion Post 189 in Lee’s Summit reminded all present that “Today we pause to reflect and remember those who lost their lives and those who responded to try and help.” He then recited Firefighter A.W. “Smokey” Linn’s Fireman’s Prayer:

When I am called to duty, God
whenever flames may rage,
Give me the strength to
save some life
Whatever be its age.
Help me to embrace a little child
Before it’s too late,
Or some older person
from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert
And hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently
to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling
and give the best in me,
To guard my neighbor
And protect his property.
And if according to Your will
I have to lose my life,
Please bless with Your
protecting hand
My children and my wife.

Commander Williams looked toward the firefighters and police present and said, “I pray to God that he will give you strength when you are afraid and when you hear sirens. Pray not only for the victims but for yourselves.”

Commander Steve Boeck of the American Legion Fifth District and Commander Jim Nail of the VFW Fifth District laid wreaths on either side of the First Responders memorial and saluted.

The Sion choir sang the National Anthem (and all stood) followed by a 3-gun salute from the Police and a similar salute from the American Legion Post 189.

The memorial service concluded with remarks and thanks by Charles Passantino, owner of Passantino Brothers Funeral Home and co-director, Catholic Cemeteries. Also in attendance were Jackson County Legislators Dan Tarwater and Theresa Galvin, and Steve Reyes, manager of Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Passantino and Pierce said the cemetery’s memorial service is to be an annual event.



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October 23, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph