JOPPA — Former state delegate Pat McDonough was driving back to Baltimore from Chicago with his wife and their 120-pound German Shepherd dog on the day of Sept. 11, 2001.
They had stopped at a small hotel in Pennsylvania — McDonough went out to lunch while his wife stayed in their hotel room — and when McDonough returned to the room, his wife informed him that an airliner had crashed into the World Trade Center.
After getting back on the road, McDonough turned to his wife and noted the contrast of their situation: Outside of their convertible were the beautiful, rolling hills of the Pennsylvania countryside, while every radio station reported chaos as they gave updates about the 9/11 attacks.
The minute he said that, a string of fire trucks rushed by with their sirens blaring. McDonough later learned that they were heading to the site of where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pa.
Eighteen years after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, which claimed the lives of 2,977 victims and affected thousands of others, McDonough will gather with community members from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Route 152 overpass at Interstate 95 to wave American flags and honor those who lost their lives as a result of the attacks.
McDonough founded the annual 9/11 Flag Waving Tribute following the attacks as a way of making sure the victims of 9/11 are never forgotten.
“It’s a mood and it’s an experience that takes you back in time to that moment (of 9/11) while you’re there, because you’re there for that reason and you’re consumed by it,” he said.
For McDonough, the American flag is symbolic of the values that the United States holds dear, and a reminder of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to make the pursuit of those ideals possible.
“The flag is the symbol of all the best in this country,” he said. “The flag is the symbol of everything that is right in this country. The flag is the symbol of those who have given their life for this country.”
Last year, McDonough said the event attracted more than 100 participants and that traditionally the local fire company brings a fire engine with a giant flag. He added that families are encouraged to bring children and dogs to commemorate this day.
When motorists pass by on I-95 each year, McDonough said their support is heard loud and clear.
“The horns just constantly blow,” he said. “There’s hardly a break in the horns.”
About four to five years into the flag-waving tradition, a gentleman pulled his car over on the side of the highway just so he could climb up the hill to Rt. 152 and shake the hands of everyone on the bridge, according to McDonough.
Another year, a man brought his great grandfather to the bridge. The great grandfather, who had been a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany during World War II, was blind when he attended the flag-waving event.
McDonough told him “I wish you could see this demonstration. It’s really something very nice.”
Although he had lost his sight, the man told McDonough that he could see — in his own way — what the flag-wavers were doing.
“I can hear the flags flapping in the wind. I can see it,” the man said.
Young people in the up-and-coming generation were not old enough — and, in most cases, were not even born yet — to remember the events of 9/11, but McDonough hopes traditions like the 9/11 Flag Waving Tribute keeps those stories alive.
“It’s important for young people to understand the truth about what America was founded for and what’s it’s all about … When we come together as Americans, and we remember the past, and we honor those who have given their life, that flag is the unifying symbol that we use,” he said.
At 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11, a 9/11 Remembrance Tribute will be hosted by the Chesapeake City Ecumenical Association at Chesapeake City Memorial VFW Post 7687, located at 304 Basil Ave.
For the first time, Chesapeake City’s 9/11 ceremony will move to the town’s VFW post.
“The VFW post saw that we did the service indoors last year at Trinity United Methodist Church because of looming weather and they told us they would like to host it this year,” explained Frank Vari, a town councilman who has organized the event for the past four years.
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, local fire companies and state police are all scheduled to participate in the ceremony that features memorial speeches, honorary music and more for the nearly 3,000 who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa.
The ceremony also kicks off Chesapeake City’s “Day To Serve” campaign, a month-long community service initiative launched by Gov. Larry Hogan to run Sept. 11 through Oct. 11, and attendees are encouraged to bring non-perishable items with them. Food, clothing and new or gently used toys will be collected during that period for the CCEA, a nonprofit that unites the area churches in the common cause of helping those in need. Group members distribute food, clothing and emergency funds to those in the Chesapeake City area from their center in the St. Basil Hall on Basil Avenue in Chesapeake City.
“All of the toys collected will be donated to those in need around Christmastime,” Vari noted.
Jacob Owens contributed to this report.