A generation after the deadliest day on American soil took place, islanders paid tribute on Wednesday to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
They came in the form of a man ringing a bell at Dockton Park midmorning and at day break, a tribute to firefighters at the Vashon fire station, which includes a memorial to Sept. 11 and artifacts from that fateful day.
At Dockton Park, islander Frank Zellerhoff Sr. stood alone for several minutes and rang a historic bell — that once beckoned workers to the drydock for ship repairs — to honor the almost 3,000 souls who perished on Sept. 11, 2001.
For Zellerhoff, a longtime Maury Island resident and general contractor, the tradition of ringing that bell on the anniversary goes back more than 10 years. Zellerhoff said he does it, regardless of who’s around the park in the morning, because he feels it is a fitting way to honor all the men, women and children who died in the terrorist airline hijackings in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania.
“Initially, I didn’t do it because others are,” Zellerhoff said, before adding, “I would say that because of other people doing it, it kind of spurs me on.”
Observers believe this 9-11 anniversary is particularly significant because after 18 years, a generation has come of age. Others youngsters, however, were not even born. It’s a fact that is not absent from Zellerhoff’s mind.
“People need to remember, especially a lot of our young people,” said Zellerhoff, who believes kids going to school today might not know very much about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Not only that, Zellerhoff believes in some ways, the community is less united after Sept. 11.
“I run into so many people who don’t care about any other people; just themselves,” he said.
Zellerhoff, approaching his 80th birthday, was not even in the country when the terrorist attacks occurred. He was in Canada on vacation with his wife. There, Zellerhoff watched a replay of the second plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers and was horrified.
“It was unbelievable,” Zellerhoff said. “All four of us in the boat, we were in awe about it. How can you explain how you feel?”
The Zellerhoffs had a tough time getting back to the U.S on their personal boat. They were at a port of entry a few days after the attacks trying to get into the states with other boaters.
“It was difficult, but it was not frustrating,” Zellerhoff said. “Everybody pretty much understood what was going on, so there was no really frustration on our part.”
Zellerhoff was key in convincing a local St. Patrick Catholic Church that had the bell to put it at Dockton Park. The historic item was gifted from the church to the Dockton Interpretive Trail Project, according to the information provided at the park. The bell “remains a symbol of our unity,” according to the sign post at the foot of the bell.
Earlier on Wednesday, at the Vashon fire station, the crew from Vashon Island Fire & Rescue heard from 16-year-old Ella Yarkin, who played the bagpipes.
In an interview with The Beachcomber, Yarkin, a junior at Vashon High School, said she took on the role as bagpiper at the firefighter’s 9-11 ceremony on Wednesday to fill in for her bagpiping teacher, who could not make the event.
Yarkin played the Marine Corps. Hymn as she marched on the station grounds and then played Amazing Grace when the firefighters raised the flag.
Yarkin acknowledges she can’t relate to 9-11 the way others who are older than her can, but she understands the magnitude of the attacks and how much it means to people, like the firefighters she performed for.
Yarkin posed for photos with the firefighters afterwards and they asked about her.
“I felt honored they would ask me (to perform),” she said. “It was nice to almost give back, in a way.”
Yarkin felt she was playing a part in “honoring 9-11 as a whole.”
“Bad things can bring people together,” she said, adding the performance was, “nice to do my part as an American.”
In an interview with The Beachcomber, Vashon Fire Chief Charlie Krimmert said he supported his crew’s decision to honor the 9-11 victims.
“In the fire service, it’s a very big deal,” Krimmert said. “It was a history-changing event in the fire service. It was impactful for far more than just New York City.”
Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s 9-11 memorial includes several 9-11 artifacts: a helmet from a New York firefighter and a steel beam from the World Trade Center.
“It’s a dangerous job, and we could very easily lose a fellow firefighter beside us as well as in the industry,” Krimmert said. “No, we probably don’t think about it (the artifacts) every day, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important to have.”
He recited a common firefighter creed said after 9-11, “Never forget.”
“Having those artifacts helps us not forget,” Krimmert said.