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    Germans, Americans honor 9/11 victims during memorial stair climb

    Germans, Americans honor 9/11 victims during memorial stair climb

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Christian Conrad | U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Trevor Derr, 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Christian Conrad 

    AFN Kaiserslautern

    “They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

    KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The day had turned hot.

    What began as a chilly morning crept steadily into the 70s, 80s and, finally, the low 90s. The heat wouldn’t have been a bother, though. Perhaps it would’ve even been welcomed after an unseasonably cool German Summer, but for Lt. Col. Taylor Branco, 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, who by then was already more than 1,000 steps into his 2,071-step ordeal, it was suffocating.

    Carrying a 20-pound flak vest, a lanyard bearing the name of a fallen first responder and an American flag, Branco, nevertheless, pushed onward.

    Branco was among the last group in a field of approximately 60 German and American participants to finish the stair climb—a memorial held on the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and that paid special tribute to the first responders who lost their lives that day.

    His pace—a quick, consistent march along the designated route mapped out among the 50,000 seats in Kaiserslautern, Germany’s Fritz-Walter Stadium—betrayed the tenacious nature of a leader who wasn’t keeping count and whose devotion to his troops, his nation and the sacrifice of his predecessors cannot be quantified in steps taken or beads of sweat spilled.

    “I wasn’t going to be done with the climb until all my Airmen were done with the climb,” Branco said. “At a certain point, it wasn’t really a matter of completing. I got to thinking about the firefighters and the lives lost during 9/11—ones that were snuffed out and what future they could’ve had if not for the attacks. I wasn’t climbing the steps at that point. I was remembering the fallen.”

    Gerard Duffy, 53. Andrew Brunn, 28. Michael Cammarata, 22. Each firefighter and paramedic who died on 9/11 was made a marker with their name and photograph along each step of the ruck’s route—343 in total.
    Branco, too, reflected on where he was that day.

    “I was in first-period Algebra class,” he said. “Just a high school freshman in Nebraska. We were notified by the intercom that something had happened in New York. By the time we turned on all the TVs, both towers had been hit.”

    Branco gestured to a group gathered nearby, still recovering after the completion of the ruck.

    “Ask any of them—any of the older maintainers or firefighters,” he said. “The world changed after that. Maybe you had plans at that point, but you had new ones after that. For me, it was plain what I needed to do. I was going to serve my country in some capacity, and the Air Force is what made the most sense to me.”

    The 2,071 steps of the ruck were no accident, either. Each participant, clad in full firefighter equipment or sporting a conventional weighted flak vest, stepped the path of the first responders who climbed each stairstep of the World Trade Center in hopes of rescuing others.

    One of the event’s organizers, Senior Master Sgt. Trevor Derr, 721st AMXS lead production superintendent, reminded the participants of the gravity of the climb and, in doing so, underscored a through line by which the firefighters, maintainers and first responders of the current era are connected to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice 22 years ago.

    “On September 11, our nation was shaken to its core,” Derr said. “But on September 12, we made a promise—a promise to never forget. Today, we gather to renew that vow… This is not a race. There is no trophy for first place. There is no ribbon for most stairs climbed. Today is not about the speed with which you accomplish the stairs, but to honor and remember the heroes we lost 22 years ago.”

    Derr raised one of the lanyards hanging around his neck, the name of a fallen first responder emblazoned brightly under a thin sheet of laminate.

    “What’s important is that you all showed up here today,” he continued, raising the lanyard higher. “At some point during the climb today, you’re going to be sweaty, tired and sore. When you feel like quitting, take a look at the name around your neck and the faces on these seats. On September 11, when everyone ran away from danger, these 343 first responders ran towards it.”

    For Branco, whose squadron is now host to many young Airmen who weren’t alive during September 11, 2001, the need to remember the day’s events has elevated from obligation to necessity.

    “The question isn’t whether we should remember, it’s that we must remember,” he said. “Those who don’t remember their history are doomed to repeat it.”

    As the sun began to set lower on the stadium and music filled the empty expanse of the grandstands and pitch, military and first responders, American and German, chatted over post-workout refreshments.

    The flag that 22 years ago was hoisted above the charred and still-smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center was there too.

    Still flying high.



    Date Taken: 09.11.2023
    Date Posted: 09.12.2023 09:01
    Story ID: 453230

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