Tony and Nancy Yallo were among thousands of South Florida residents who gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, and they were among dozens who gathered at Centennial Park and Amphitheater in Boynton Beach.
Their flagpole at home flew the American flag at half-staff. Before going to the ceremony, they played taps and Amazing Grace at home.
The Yallos weren’t alone in their solemn acknowledgement.
One of the speakers at the Boynton Beach event, James Caster, a retired New York City firefighter, said he remembers 9/11 “like yesterday.”
Caster, a 10-year Boynton Beach resident who also lived 12 years in Plantation, got choked up explaining the significance of 9/11.
“What it means to me,” he said, before briefly pausing. “There’s too many emotions to say what it means.”
Farther south, at Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Oceanside Park, hundreds attended the “Tribute to America’s Heroes” that featured police, fire fighters, military, and civilians in an exhibition called the “Human Baton.” It features the participants being involved in various events such as skydiving, drift car racing and physical fitness exercises.
One of the goals of that event was to remember 9/11, but another was showing first responders and military personnel to civilians as regular people who like to have fun.
In other locales, such as Miramar, Pembroke Pines, West Palm Beach, Wellington, Margate, Sunrise and Pompano Beach and others, people gathered to remember, honor and acknowledge those affected by the tragedy that killed almost 3,000 people.
The many 9/11 events around South Florida commemorated the terrorist attacks on the United States by Al-Qaeda at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the foiled attack that ended with a plane crash in Shanksville, Pa.
The Fort Lauderdale event, which required closing a section of State Road A1A in front of Las Olas Oceanside Park and the well-known bar, Elbo Room, featured a moment of silence, the national anthem, God Bless America, speeches, and an exhibition called the Human Baton in which a representatives from the police, fire department, military and civilian sector participated in various events that included skydiving, drift cars, fitness exercises, a GT car race, and a foot race. Professional drivers drove the drift car and GT car and the participants were passengers.
The Boynton Beach event featured honor guards from the Boynton Beach Fire Department, Boynton Beach Police Department, American Legion Post 164, and VFW Gold Star Post 5335 presenting colors. That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the national anthem, and numerous speeches, tributes and salutes.
Seated under a canopy to escape the day’s searing heat, the Yallos, who live in Boynton Beach, recalled where they were when the airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center towers that Tuesday morning.
Nancy Yallo was in Carlstad, N.J., and she was talking to a friend when they noticed one tower on fire. Tony Yallo was managing the post office in Fort Lee, N.J., and had a clear view of the frightening events.
“We watched the plane hit and all the smoke,” he said.
Tony ended up assisting the FBI try to locate possible sleeper cells in the area.
Among the Yallos’ neighbors were a young couple. The husband worked in the World Trade Center; the wife was three months pregnant.
“He never came home that day,” Tony said of the husband.
The Yallos ended up establishing a charity to help the young woman rear her child.
The Yallos’ daughter, Sgt. Kimberly Maria Yallo-Pratts, ended up joining the Marines shortly afterward and served two 14-month tours in Afghanistan.
Caster was retired on Sept. 11, 2001, but his recall station was Engine 5, located on 14th Street in Manhattan. He reported there on Sept. 12, 2001.
“If I would have been in my home in Manhattan,” he said, “I most likely wouldn’t be here today.”
Boynton Beach fire chief Jim Stables said the anniversary has widespread appeal because of how many lives were affected among first responders and civilians. Stables, who was a battalion chief of operations in Palm Bay, Fla., at the time, said the anniversary serves as a reminder that “we’re upholding our promise to never forget.” He also said the anniversary reminds him of the resilience of the United States citizens.
“That was a severe tragedy we experienced that day,” he said. “There were a lot of civilian lives lost. We don’t want to forget that.”
In Fort Lauderdale, Chris Nelson, a 38-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, carried a United States flag and wore a tank top that read, “When tyranny become law, rebellion becomes duty.” The quote is attributed to Thomas Jefferson, and Nelson supports it wholeheartedly, saying 9/11 began “a 20-year gradual stripping away of our freedom.”
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Nelson, who opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, said 9/11 is a time “when we saw bravery, when we saw courage, we saw the grit and determination of America coming together in a way we never came together before” the attack.
Fort Lauderdale police sergeant Leo Arena represented law enforcement in the Human Baton. Arena, who got a medical discharge from the Air Force, had never skydived until Saturday. However, he’d been in the drift car during a media/practice session.
Arena was working in the financial sector during 9/11.
“I happened to be on vacation at the time and then it came across the TV, and there was disbelief and shock,” he said.
He tried to get back in the Air Force.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards for me,” he said. “And then I found another way to serve.”