About 40 people bowed their heads in silence at the beginning of a ceremony Wednesday morning in Tuolumne to pay their respects for the thousands of innocent Americans who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Among those in attendance were Ben and Amber Hess, who brought along their three children ages 6, 5 and 2.

All of the couple’s children were born more than a decade after the tragic day that forever changed the United States, which is one of the reasons why Ben Hess said he wanted to bring them to the inaugural event.

“It’s important to remember the sacrifices that came before us, and we want to start a tradition to impart that onto our kids,” he said.

Ben Hess, who served in the Marines from 2006 to 2010, was among many military veterans who attended the event. He said the 9/11 attacks were a major factor in his decision to enlist.

The ceremony began at 9:11 a.m. sharp on the east lawn of the Tuolumne Veteran’s Memorial Hall, where a memorial for victims of 9/11 and those who served in the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is under construction.

Aaron Rasmussen, past commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4748, opened the ceremony against the backdrop of the half-constructed memorial and talked about how it was also intended as a reminder of the patriotism and unity Americans felt after 9/11.

“This crosses uniforms,” said Rasmussen, a U.S. Army veteran who was just out of boot camp when the attacks occurred. “It’s not just about military, police, or firefighters, it’s also about the citizens.”

Dan Hillier served as the chaplain and gave an opening prayer.

Rasmussen then rang a bell three times for the sites where 19 hijackers crashed four airline jets filled with passengers, including both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

A total of 2,977 people were killed in the attacks.

“For all those who lost their lives that day, and those who died guarding the gates of freedom, we remember you,” Rasmussen said in closing.

The event ended with a somber rendition of “God Bless America” sung by those who attended.

Nick Ohler, chief of the Tuolumne Fire District, and several of his fellow firefighters were among the people at the ceremony.

Ohler, who was 15 when 9/11 happened, said the day makes him think about the 343 members of the New York City Fire Department who died in the attack on the World Trade Center, the deadliest single day in the history of the U.S. fire service.

“I can only imagine what they were thinking,” he said of the brave firefighters who ran into the burning WTC towers while thousands of others were running out. “To us, it’s just doing our jobs.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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