Paul Zerkow had taken the morning off on Sept. 11, 2001. He was on his way in to work at the Pentagon when he heard the news about the terrorist attacks.
"It was just by the luck of God that I was not in the Pentagon that day. I was driving into the Pentagon when I heard the announcement, so I rushed over, set up outside and tried to help the people there," said Zerkow, a retired U.S. Army major.
Zerkow worked with U.S. Army Sergeant Major Larry L. Strickland and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Robert J. Hymel, two Prince William County residents who died that day and who were remembered as part of the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony held at the county's Liberty Memorial.
Zerkow said he was glad to attend a ceremony honoring the fallen. "Having the ceremony is an appropriate remembrance of all those people who gave their lives in honor, not only in support of their country, but in support of the folks that worked in the Pentagon. It was a tragic day for everybody all around."
Janet Pendergraph also worked at the Pentagon on 9/11 and said she often thinks of that blue-skied, September day, especially on the anniversaries. "I think it's important to remember those who perished. It was just a rather ordinary day. I thought about that last night. I'm lucky that I had 16 years that some of the people didn't."
The Prince William Board of County Supervisor's Chairman Corey A. Stewart spoke at the ceremony and talked of the country's pain that day. "As a nation, we lost nearly 3,000 people – people who were neighbors, friends and family members. The entire country mourned their loss, and the loss of our sense of safety and security."
Stewart also talked of the pain the community felt and the desire to honor all those that were lost that day. "As a county, we were especially hard hit that day. We lost 22 people, the most of any region in the metro area. To remember our local heroes, we worked with the community to build this Liberty Memorial. The shape of the reflecting pool and walkway recall those lost at the Pentagon. The two columns of water represent the thousands of lives lost at the World Trade Center in New York City. The stone that encircles the fountain is Pennsylvania flagstone, a tribute to those who died in Pennsylvania. The single stone to the left of the plaque is an original limestone block from the collapsed portion of the Pentagon. Across the street is a sculpture made out of steel beams from the World Trade Center, which shows the resilience of the American people, even when faced with such tragic circumstances on our own soil."
The ceremony also included the tolling of a fire bell by the Department of Fire and Rescue to honor the passing of all those who died on 9/11. When a firefighter died in the line of duty, the Fire Alarm Office, the forerunner of today's 9-1-1 call centers, would "tap out" a special signal - "Five-Five-Five" – five even dashes and then a pause, five even dashes and then a pause, and then five more dashes. The practice became known as the Tolling of the Bell.
Stewart then read the names of the 22 community members that died that day, and the ceremony ended as the crowd surrounding the memorial stood and listened as a bugler played "Taps."
Jerry Schwehm, who was visiting from New Orleans, said he was moved by the ceremony. "It was so good. Everyone can relate to this."
The names of the fallen community members, whose names are inscribed on the Liberty Memorial fountain, include:
Sergeant First Class John J. Chada, U.S. Army, Retired
Petty Officer Third Class Jamie L. Fallon, U.S. Navy
Amelia V. Fields
Lt. Col. Robert J. Hymel, U.S. Air Force, Retired
Sergeant Major Lacey B. Ivory, U.S. Army
Judith L. Jones
David W. Laychak
James T. Lynch, Jr.
Gene E. Maloy
Robert J. Maxwell
Molly L. McKenzie
Craig J. Miller
Diana B. Padro
Rhonda S. Rasmussen
Edward V. Rowenhorst
Donald D. Simmons
Jeff L. Simpson
Cheryle D. Sincock
Chief Information Systems Technician Gregg H. Smallwood, U.S. Navy
Sergeant Major Larry L. Strickland, U.S. Army
Sandra L. White
To watch the ceremony in its entirety, visit the county's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/princewilliamcounty.
More information about the Liberty Memorial and World Trade Center Sculpture can be found at www.pwcgov.org/memorials.