AUSTINTOWN - Twelve years ago, New York firefighter Michael Kahlau desperately sifted through the rubble of the just-fallen World Trade Center buildings, searching for signs of life.
On Wednesday, Kahlau and fellow New York firefighter Nick Mincone were honored in Austintown during the annual Mahoning Valley 9/11 Memorial tribute at 9/11 Memorial Park.
Hundreds of people turned out for the hourlong commemoration put together by the Mahoning Valley 9/11 Committee, which included emotional recounts by both New York firefighters.
Cassidy Lowen, 17, a junior at Austintown Fitch High School, wipes away a tear while holding her brother Cody Lowen, 10, Wednesday during the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the Mahoning Valley 9/11 Memorial park in Austintown.
"This park is amazing," Kahlau said of the 14-acre 9/11 Memorial Park on Raccoon Road. "I thought 9/11 memorials were limited to New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville (Pa.). I never expected to see something like this (in Austintown)."
Kahlau was in his New York home sleeping at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when his father shook him awake after seeing the newsflash saying a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
"We sat down to watch TV," Kahlau, a 12-year veteran of Engine 262 in Queens, said. "When the second plane hit, I jumped in my car and went to work. I didn't come home for a couple days."
A tearful crowd watched as Kahlau described his life following the attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people when hijacked jets crashed into the towers, the Pentagon and in a field near Shanksville.
"Three years ago, I was diagnosed with a World Trade Center-related cancer," Kahlau said. "I look back at my time down there and I wouldn't change a thing. Tomorrow I'd be in the same position."
Mincone, a former member of Engine 257 in Brooklyn, told the crowd he thinks often about the many rescue workers killed when the towers collapsed. He also took part in the 9/11 cleanup in the months following the tragedy.
"Those men didn't come home," Mincone said. "They kissed their wives and their children thinking they were going to be home and they didn't make it back. We spent hours, days, months, years trying to make sure we can send everybody home."
Canfield resident Lisa Kleinhandler, who lived in Long Branch, N.Y., during the Sept. 11 attacks, gave her testimony of the carnage she saw over a decade ago.
"I witnessed the tragic events that happened that morning 12 years ago," Kleinhandler recalled. "The memories of fear, horror and sadness from that dreadful day will forever scar my heart and soul. Our nation must never forget the acts of terror that were unleashed that day."
In addition to first-hand accounts, the Youngstown Police Department conducted a 21-gun salute to memorialize the victims of the day, along with a rendition of taps by Aaron Looper of the Salem Fire Department and "Amazing Grace" played by the Celtic Flame Pipe and Drum Corps. The Youngstown Fire Department, Cardinal Joint Fire District and Austintown Fire Department honor guards presented the colors, the raising of the American flag.
Finally, the Austintown firemen conducted a ceremonial ringing of a bell, followed by the closing prayer conducted by the Rev. Kenneth Miller of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
Fred Marcum of the Austintown Fire Department helped coordinate the commemoration with visiting firefighters from New York.
"This park, this town, this valley, this nation ... we are a brotherhood," Marcum said. "There have been many tragic events that have changed our history. But, with each and every one, we as a nation were called and we came together for a common interest. I'm asking all Americans to use this brotherhood, not just for tragedies, but each and every day."
Residents from across the area came out for the day's events, wishing to be a part of the remembrance.
Austintown's Gene Chipelock, a native of Pennsylvania, comes to the township's annual memorial each year.
"I'm from the area around Shanksville and I know that area well," Chipelock said. "I've visited that a couple times and I come here every year. It was a nice ceremony and a lot of people came out, which is a good thing."
Lynn Foriska and Virginia Coates, both of Austintown, said they are proud of the township's efforts to honor the victims of Sept. 11.
"It's important for everybody to remember, not just those in New York, Pennsylvania or Washington," Foriska said. "It's just about remembering the people who lost their lives."