Champaign, Urbana firefighters honor comrades with memorial

Prior to the start of Illinois’ home opener against Southern Illinois on Saturday, the Champaign and Urbana fire departments hosted a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

The event was held at University parking lot 33, west of the Assembly Hall, during tailgating activities prior to the football game.

Chris Hanson, commander of the Champaign Firefighters Honor Guard, said that Sept. 11 has become “our generation’s Pearl Harbor” and that this day should be celebrated as a tribute to those who risked their lives on that tragic day. Hanson also talked about travelling to New York in 2002 to help out with cleanup and recovery.

“9/11 became another watershed moment in our lives,” Hanson said. “The best way to remember those lost is to never forget.”

Prior to the ceremony, Hanson talked about how the Honor Guard observed Sept. 11 every year and that this year was particularly convenient in that it fell on the home opener.

“We were lucky enough it fell on a U of I game day, so we’ve been able to coordinate with the University of Illinois to come out and do a little ceremony before the game,” Hanson said.

The ceremony also included the traditional firefighter’s bell service, when a three-ring bell is rung three times in honor of fallen firefighters. The ceremony ended with Todd Hitt, deputy commander of the Champaign Firefighters Honor Guard, performing a rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

Hitt, who has been playing the bagpipes for four years, said it is emotional to perform on solemn occasions like this one. “People either love them (bagpipes) or hate them. But they invoke emotion and in times like this in firefighter memorials and funerals, emotion is what we need,” Hitt said. “There is no better thing than ‘Amazing Grace’ to send that emotion home.”

Evan Roberts, junior at Parkland College, found the ceremony respectful and emotional.

“It helps you remember the event,” he said. “Definitely will touch those who were close to the actual event.”

Wayne Huckstadt, captain of the Champaign Fire Department, said the memorial reminded him of the dangers that can arise in his job.

“We all want to go home at the end of the day, but we try to do our duty,” he said. “It was a very good memorial to the tragic events of 2001.”

His daughter Allison Huckstadt, senior at Parkland College, said the ceremony was moving.

“It was very touching and nice to remember those who served for us and risked their lives,” she said.