9/11 continues to hit home for Southwest Floridians

From left, John Wholihan, retired fireman for New York City Fire Department, Jerry Sanford, retired New York City firefighter and current public information officer for the North Naples Fire District, Sam Cadreau, retired Lieutenant of the City of Naples Fire Department, Cpl. Vincent Martino, retired detective with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and current Collier County Sheriff deputy, take a moment of silence during St. John the Evangelist's Mass of Remembrance on Sept. 11, 2011. Greg Kahn/Staff

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From left, John Wholihan, retired fireman for New York City Fire Department, Jerry Sanford, retired New York City firefighter and current public information officer for the North Naples Fire District, Sam Cadreau, retired Lieutenant of the City of Naples Fire Department, Cpl. Vincent Martino, retired detective with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and current Collier County Sheriff deputy, take a moment of silence during St. John the Evangelist's Mass of Remembrance on Sept. 11, 2011. Greg Kahn/Staff

There are several 9/11 ceremonies Tuesday in Golden Gate, Bonita Springs and East Naples. Are you going to the ceremonies? Share your photos and & videos »

Jerry Sanford, a retired New York City firefighter and a current public information officer for the North Naples Fire District, worked in a press office in New York City after 9/11 arranging interviews for national television shows and other media. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Jerry Sanford, a retired New York City firefighter and a current public information officer for the North Naples Fire District, worked in a press office in New York City after 9/11 arranging interviews for national television shows and other media. David Albers/Staff

Naples

What: 9/11 Memorial Mass and blessing of fire engine 343

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: St. Peter the Apostle Church, 5136 Rattlesnake Hammock Road

Phone: 239-774-3337

Website: www.stpeternaples.com

Bonita Springs

What: 9/11 remembrance service, including 21-gun salute

When: 9 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Riverside Park, downtown Bonita Springs, off Old 41 Road

Phone: 239-949-6262

Jerry Sanford, like all Americans old enough to remember the day, recalls vividly where he was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

The retired New York City firefighter boarded a 7 a.m. flight out of New York's LaGuardia Airport bound for Pittsburgh.

"We flew right down the East River, right by the Twin Towers," said the Naples resident.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, 11 years to the day since 9/11, Sanford will be at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in East Naples for the blessing of a fire engine named 343 in honor of the 343 New York City firefighters killed in the terrorist attack on that dreadful day.

The Rev. Gerard Critch will bless the truck, which was built in 1984 and refurbished by the Gulfcoast Retired Firefighters Association.

Critch, who served as a chaplain of the triage team at a New York hospital in the aftermath of the attack, performs a Memorial Mass every Sept. 11.

The previous 9/11 Masses at the church have attracted somewhere between 700 and 900 people, by Sanford's estimate. This year's memorial will include the 1984 firetruck.

"It means a lot to us in the Catholic Church," said Sanford, who is the spokesman for the North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District and previously spent 30 years with the New York City Fire Department. "We're big on blessing things."

The engine was donated to the retired firefighters group by the East Naples Fire Department. Its first public appearance in its red paint was in a St. Patrick's Day parade.

As the evening unfolds Tuesday, thoughts and prayers from firefighters such as Sanford will be with the 343 of their comrades who died in the towers. Those firefighters are more than names to Sanford, who retired from the New York fire department in 1997.

"I knew about half the firefighters killed," Sanford, 74, said.

Even for firefighters from other agencies throughout the country, the loss still resonates.

"It's a real brotherhood," Naples resident Sam Cadreau, a retired firefighter, said of the bond among firefighters from everywhere.

That brotherhood's bonds tightened after 9/11.

"It has brought everybody real close," Cadreau said.

Cadreau, too, recalls where he was and what was doing on that morning 11 years ago. He was working a second job as a welder and busy all morning on a job.

"I didn't know what happened until noon," Cadreau, 57, said.

That's when he drove to a post office and noticed the American flag at half staff and an empty parking lot.

"I got in my truck and turned the radio on," Cadreau said.

Then he knew.

Cadreau and Sanford are helping the Gulfcoast Retired Firefighters Association raise money for the Collier County Freedom Memorial under construction in Freedom Park along Golden Gate Parkway, near Goodlette-Frank Road.

Cadreau estimated the fundraising has amassed about half of the $2.2 million cost. He said all the funds have come through private donations.

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Eleven years later: 9/11 remains in the forefront; prompts Marco Island firefighter back to war

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