Honoring the victims of 9/11 among the luminaries in Naples

A solemn day in American history was felt around the United States and here in Southwest Florida. Just hours ago, many in Collier County remembered the brave men and women who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks with a powerful candlelight vigil.

Dozens of people are filling luminary bags. They are writing messages – from adults who were old enough to remember where they were 18 years ago, to little ones who will learn about this day in history class.

Jerry Sanford, who is retired from the New York City Fire Dept., said Sept. 11 will always be a fresh memory. The day before, his department had a ceremony and about 12 of the men he was with would all die.

Sanford was changing planes in Pittsburgh when he heard the news. He had flown out of LaGuardia Airport around two hours before the attacks. He immediately rushed to the nearest television.

“That’s the first time I saw the plane hit the towers,” Sanford said. “I immediately knew my fellow firefighters were going in and going up.”

Sanford returned days later. He went to Ground Zero to help. Throughout the country, people at home, in class, are trying to make sense of the tragedy, including Mary Joan Madonna, who lost a family friend in the Pentagon crash.

Right now, Madonna has a few mixed emotions about the momentous day. But she urges others to stay strong as a country and continue building bonds.

Even two decades later, Sanford has no regrets about helping as soon as he could make it back to New York City.

“Any of us would do this again in a New York minute,” Sanford said.

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