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First responders from across Western Washington County held the ceremony to remember lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

PMG PHOTO: MAX EGENER - Firefighters from Washington County stand at attention during the tolling of the bells at a ceremony in Forest Grove on Wednesday to honor of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.The large American flag in Forest Grove flew at half-staff on Wednesday, Sept. 11, as about 40 community members gathered with first responders to memorialize the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Eighteen years ago to the day, four commercial airliners were hijacked and crashed on U.S. soil. Two planes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. One was flown into the side of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth plane went down in rural Pennsylvania after passengers and the flight crew tried to wrest control of the plane from the hijackers. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks as the Twin Towers collapsed.

Every year, firefighters, law enforcement officers and public officials from across Washington County come to the flagpole for a memorial ceremony.

With the help of local volunteers, Forest Grove resident Sharyl MacDonald planted a flag for each victim of the attack in the grass east of the flagpole. It's the second time MacDonald has set up the flags ahead of the annual ceremony.

Michael Kinkade, who serves as fire chief of Forest Grove, Cornelius and Gaston, continued another tradition on Wednesday. For the 11th year, he told the stories of three people who died in the attacks.

"It's hard for us as a community to conceptualize and understand these numbers," Kinkade said from the podium about the number of victims. "It is important that we focus not on the numbers, but who they were, who they left behind and who they might have become. I believe my responsbility at these Sept. 11 memorials is to learn their stories, and as best I can retell them."

Kinkade said he picks the individuals at random from an archive of families' stories published in The New York Times.

He said he's privileged to help the community remember the victims of the attacks. After 11 years, the feeling of respect he gains from reading the stories hasn't changed, he said.

"When I start reading it up here, even though I practiced the speech a few times before I came up here today, it still gets to me — the enormous loss of these people who were doing nothing more than going on with their daily lives," Kinkade said.

PMG PHOTO: MAX EGENER - Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax speaks at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony on Wednesday.

As people looked on solemnly, Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax spoke of the resolve to seek justice, and not revenge, as he evoked the images of other pivotal tragedies in American history such as the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

"We have moved forward from that day 18 years ago," Truax said. "We have a way to go."

After a tolling of the bells, community members stood before a three-foot-long piece of steel that was salvaged from the World Trade Center. The piece is part of Forest Grove's fire museum.

Gaston resident Sheryl Sutton said she was moved by the ceremony. It was the first time she had attended a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony, she said.

When she heard about the ceremony at a recent Forest Grove City Council meeting, which she attended as part of her daughter's school assignment, she thought she had to go.

Like many people, Sutton remembers where she was when she learned of the attacks. She was with her mom in San Diego, and although she typically didn't turn on the news in the morning, she did that day.

"I knew what the Twin Towers were, but it didn't register that that's what was going on so I went and told my mom, and she was like, 'No way,' because my mom and my dad had been there a year before," Sutton said. She said her parents were happy to have visited before the attacks.

As she was leaving, Sutton reflected on the ability of communities to come together after tragedy.

"It doesn't matter what religion, what belief, no belief. It doesn't matter what political party," Sutton said. "People look at human lives and they come together."

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