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Remembering heroes

Plymouth resident who lost brother on 9/11 attends Marshall memorial program

Photos by Deb Gau Marshall City Council Member Craig Schafer speaks to third grade students from Holy Redeemer School next to the 9/11 Memorial in Marshall. The students were among the community members who attended a memorial program Friday afternoon.

MARSHALL — The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were events that forever changed the lives of people across the United States. But in the aftermath, people also came together both to grieve and to help each other, speakers at Friday’s 9/11 memorial program said.

“My hope is, is that in remembering the heroes of 9/11 and the folks who dedicate their lives to help folks and make their lives better, that that will help us become a stronger country,” said Erik Aamoth.

Aamoth, a Plymouth, Minn., resident who lost his brother, Gordy Aamoth, Jr., in the attacks on the World Trade Center, said visiting the 9/11 memorial in Marshall had been on his bucket list for years.

“I had heard about it many years ago and never had a chance to come down. Having a chance to see it live today is just, it’s something.” he said. “It’s hard to explain. It means so much to me.”

Aamoth said at first he didn’t know there was a memorial program planned Friday, but he spoke with area residents about his brother, and his family’s experiences.

Gordy Aamoth was always fascinated by New York and dreamed of living there, Erik said.

“After college he spent time sleeping on friends’ couches, trying to find a job in New York and be an investment banker,” Aamoth said. For about 10 years, Gordy worked his dream job with a firm on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center.

“We feel good about the fact that Gordy succeeded and had a great life, and obviously it was too short,” he said.

Aamoth said he was on his way to work on Sept. 11, when he heard about a plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center. His relief at knowing his brother was all right ended with news of the south tower also being hit.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, no one knew what had happened to Gordy, Aamoth said.

Cell phone networks were overwhelmed, so it was impossible to contact Gordy’s friends in New York.

“That was really hard, not knowing,” he said. “We had a lot of people coming over to our house in waves,” to help support the Aamoth family, he said.

Aamoth said his family was grateful to the responders and volunteers who went through wreckage at the World Trade Center site in the weeks and months after the attacks. Responders were eventually able to recover Gordy’s wallet, and later his remains.

A total of 412 first responders died in the World Trade Center attacks, Aamoth said, “Running into a building to try and save people they didn’t know. My family and I are indebted to those folks and what they did.”

Aamoth said it’s taken a long time for him to read more about the 9/11 attacks, but some of the things that have struck him were the diversity of people who were affected. The victims of the World Trade Center attacks included people from 90 different countries, he said.

“After 9/11 what I remember about our country, was just the incredible unity and togetherness that we had,” Aamoth said. He told area residents he hoped that the country could become stronger together.

“Thank you especially to the men and women who are serving us in this difficult time, the firefighters and police and first responders. And thank all of you who are part of this memorial and putting it together,” he said.

The crowd gathered around the 9/11 memorial in downtown Marshall included people who were affected by the attacks in different ways. Redwood Falls resident Matt Smith said he comes back to the 9/11 memorial in Marshall every year. A retired Minnesota state trooper, Smith said he was serving as a New York police officer on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was in court at that time,” Smith said. But once news broke of the World Trade Center attacks, officers were sent out of the courtroom and back to their precincts. While Smith wasn’t part of the initial response to the 9/11 attacks, he was part of the “bucket brigade” working through the World Trade Center site in the months afterward.

“I find myself here every year,” Smith said of the 9/11 memorial.

Keynote speaker Col. Mark Kjorness described seeing the plume of smoke from the attack on the Pentagon in 2001.

“On Tuesday, Sept. 11, I was out of the Pentagon building to attend training across the Potomac River. Our training was interrupted by the news reports, and we could see smoke coming from the Pentagon,” Kjorness said. Kjorness said his co-workers, who were in basement offices on the opposite side of the Pentagon from the attack, didn’t hear the explosion. They were called and told to leave the building, he said.

“I later heard about the heroics of officers I had worked with before, like Lt. Col. Ted Anderson, who went into the burning part of the Pentagon, and led out many from the building to safety. We lost 125 people in the Pentagon that day.”

Kjorness said the 9/11 attacks impacted everything that came afterward. He was later deployed to Afghanistan, and to Iraq, and saw the sacrifices that military service members made.

“The sacrifices service members made are the same that firefighters, police officers and other first responders did on 9/11, and do every day to protect and serve their communities,” he said.

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