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Portage focus ‘guys who lost their lives’

Portage Assistant Fire Chief Randy Wilkening plays bagpipes  during ceremony honoring those who died during attacks Sept. 11 2001

Portage Assistant Fire Chief Randy Wilkening plays the bagpipes during a ceremony honoring those who died during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, hosted by the Portage police and fire departments at Gilbert Park Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in Portage, Ind. | Scott M. Bort~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 9, 2011 3:15PM

PORTAGE — In an alphabet of loss, grief and tragedy, members of the Portage Fire Department and Portage Police Chief Mark Becker listed the names of the firefighters and police officers who lost their lives at the World Trade Center 10 years ago Sunday.

About 100 people attended the service at Frank Gilbert Jr. Memorial Park under blue skies on a day not unlike the one on which terrorists flew jet airliners into the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in suburban Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania field in the worst attack on U.S. soil.

Portage Fire Chief Tom Fieffer said he used the time line in which the Twin Towers were attacked as a model for the service, which was similar to one the city conducted after the tragedy.

“We did the same thing, read all the names of the firefighters,” he said before the service began, “and wanted to focus on that one thing, not a bunch of speeches, but the guys who lost their lives.”

Firefighters wore grey T-shirts emblazoned on the back with the Twin Towers and the number 343 for the firefighters who lost their lives rescuing those in the towers as they collapsed. Sixty police officers also died helping others.

“We will be wearing these shirts for the next 343 hours — one hour for each firefighter who gave his life,” Fieffer said.

Many of those attending the service were overcome with emotion, including some of the firefighters reading the names of their fallen comrades.

The emergency responders who died “laid down their lives for strangers,” said Tim Engel, chaplain for the Portage police and fire departments, and pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. He thanked God for the men and women of the Portage departments and those in other communities, and prayed for their safety.

The program concluded with the Lord’s Prayer and the playing of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.

“Thank you for gathering with us today and helping us remember, so we never forget,” Fieffer said.

After the service, Becker said he was a senior supervisory resident agent for the FBI’s Merrillville office at the time of the attacks. For him, 9/11 represented terrorism, a threat to national security and a loss of life.

Now that he’s with the Police Department, the day is an emotional one.

“It could have been anywhere, anyplace, and it could have been one of these people,” he said.

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