Joe Gallucci recalls stuffing his Toyota Camry with eight people he didn’t know. American Airlines Flight 77 had just hit the Pentagon, where Gallucci said he was helping with renovations inside U.S. military headquarters, two decades ago Saturday.
“There wasn’t a fire drill at the Pentagon before,” said Gallucci, 65, remembering the chaos of Sept. 11, 2001. “No one knew where to go.”
He drove all eight strangers home that day, he said. “It’s feels like it was yesterday, even though it was 20 years ago.”
Gallucci paused. His wife, Cynthia, placed a hand on his arm.
The couple, who live in Countryside, were among about 2,000 people who came together Saturday morning at the Curlew Hills Memory Gardens in Palm Harbor for a ceremony on the anniversary of the terror attacks. They waved small American flags under an overcast sky. Grammy-winning musician Lee Greenwood, whose voice provided the patriotic anthem of the nation after 9/11, performed several songs, including “God Bless the USA.” Gov. Ron DeSantis showed up to mark the day in his home county.
“We all know where we were 20 years ago, whether we were in Florida, New York or California,” said Keenan Knopke, president and CEO of the Memory Gardens. “We all know that day changed our lives forever.”
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, both Palm Harbor Republicans, were in attendance. The ceremony recognized people who died and who continue to suffer the trauma that ripples from Ground Zero, including first responders and veterans of wars in the Middle East.
“We can’t let it happen again,” DeSantis said, taking his turn at the lectern. “But we definitely sent the message that America will respond.”
The governor compared the rubble of the fallen World Trade Center towers to the Surfside condo collapse in June. When he visited the site in South Florida, he said, he was reminded of 9/11.
“If there’s anything that happens in this community or any community across Florida, it’s going to be those folks wearing the uniform that are going to be there for us,” DeSantis said.
Retired New York firefighter and 9/11 first responder Garrett Lindgren, who lives in Bradenton, spoke about how on the day of the attacks, even the toughest of his colleagues wore a blank stare.
Years after, Lindgren said, he realized he was suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Seeking help changed his life, he said, and he encouraged others to do the same.
“There’s no shame in that,” Lindgren said.
Anthony Abramson, of Tampa, sat in the first few rows holding a framed photograph of a childhood friend, Daniel Rosetti. Abramson had made a shirt for himself, with images of the towers and the American flag. Rosetti’s name stretched across the back.
Every year, Abramson goes out to the cemetery’s 9/11 memorial to remember his friend. Rosetti was a 32-year-old contractor working the last day of a job on the south tower’s 105th floor when the plane hit.
Abramson listened as a bugler played “Taps” and the American flag was raised to half staff.
He watched as Scott Sanford, of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, struck a bell in four sets of five.
Abramson stood with the rest of the crowd as people sang alongside Greenwood, belting a chorus they all know by heart.