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Tears flow at 9/11 ceremony in downtown Tampa

TAMPA — The downtown event honored the "9/11 Generation" — the office workers, rescuers and combat forces who are the dead of 9/11. But it was the old and young — those generations who came before and after — who graced the ceremony with their tears Friday.

George Bille, 78, a retired New York City firefighter, wept as he spoke of two lost firemen who had been the sons of his best friends. "They were in Boy Scouts with my kids," he said.

Kaitlin McClure, 22, cried as she recalled being 12 in Valrico, watching on television as firefighters rushed into the second World Trade Center tower after the first tower collapsed. "I kept newspapers from before and after," she said. "It's a totally different world."

Bille and McClure were part of a noontime remembrance at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in downtown Tampa, one of several memorials held Friday throughout the Tampa Bay area.

They included ceremonies at the University of South Florida and on Bayshore Boulevard, where the homespun Bayshore Patriots have waved flags every Friday since the attacks in 2001.

At MacDill Air Force Base, a bugler played taps and Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, vowed to continue the fight to defeat al-Qaida. "Let us quietly and firmly reaffirm our resolve to stand together," he said.

The downtown event also featured military speeches, a MacDill flyover and a brief welcome by Gov. Rick Scott. But the ceremony's emotional force was delivered by the hundreds of young and old who remembered together — their spirit punctuated by first-graders from Rampello Downtown Partnership School, who sang God Bless America.

Virtually the entire graybearded American Legion Alafia Post 148 roared in on motorcycles. Members are riding to memorial events all weekend long to call attention to their efforts to shelter families of wounded veterans at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center. Last year they raised $10,000.

Harry and Sue Leinbach came on a Harley tricycle. Harry was an Army sergeant in the Korean War. Ten years after 9/11, he can't find an end in sight to war. "I wish I could see something down the line," he said.

The ceremony featured a 14-foot beam from the World Trade Center upon which five wreaths were placed. But the post brought along its own steel souvenir from the towers, a 130-pound hunk of I-beam carried in a pickup truck.

The members of Campo Camp Cristina Youth in Government came wearing purple T-shirts to hand out programs and water bottles. One was Austin Clouse, just 7 when his dad called home a decade ago and said to turn on the TV. It was more than a 7-year-old boy could absorb. "I was scared a plane would crash into our apartment," he said.

Patty McClure, whose 12-year-old daughter Kaitlin watched the horror unfold on TV, said these are all kids who have never known a vocabulary that didn't include 9/11. "If 9/11 is going to be remembered," she said, "these are the people who will make that happen."

Times staff writer William R. Levesque contributed to this story. John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Tears flow at 9/11 ceremony in downtown Tampa 09/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 10:22am]
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