Every Sept. 11, Nick Scunziano dons his dark blue dress uniform and readies himself to serve as master of ceremonies for the gathering to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 3,000 Americans, including 343 men and women from the profession he served in for more than four decades.
The retired New York City firefighter always reads the timeline of events from that day 12 years ago, beginning with the departure of American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston on its way to Los Angeles.
"It still gives me a chill," Scunziano said at Wednesday's Sept. 11 memorial ceremony at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209 in Spring Hill.
Which is why Retired New York City Firefighters Chapter 343 of Spring Hill chooses to host the event every year at the memorial garden it built three years ago to honor Sept. 11 victims and their families.
"It's just too important not to remember," said Vinnie Segreto, who along with Scunziano helped spearhead the effort the build the memorial, which contains artifacts recovered from the Sept. 11 airline crash sites. Although they had retired by the time of the attacks, each had friends in their respective fire units who never made it home that day.
"It remains one of the worst days of my life," Segreto said.
The memorial service was attended by firefighters and law enforcement personnel from throughout Hernando County, as well as others who remain touched by the horrific events that claimed the lives of people close to them.
Shortly before Wednesday's ceremony, John Baretela of Spring Hill spent a quiet moment near the memorial garden fighting back tears as he remembered his friends, New York City firefighters Richard Muldowney Jr. and Timothy Higgins, both of whom died trying to save lives at the World Trade Center in New York City.
Baretela, a former New York City bus driver, said he remembers the tragic events as if they were yesterday and attends the annual ceremony to reflect on the loss of his childhood friends.
"It's always rough when leading up 9/11," said Baretela, 55. "I'm so glad this memorial happens every year."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.