In this quiet tribute to 9/11, numbers mattered


Column and photos by WNLP’s Mike Kellems

(Click photos to enlarge)

The four firefighters descend the stairs.

Fatigue begins to set in after several flights.

Mayor Tom Dermody (top left) joins in the tribute.

A firefighter’s shadow seems to serve as tribute to those who sacrificed their lives.


Bottom to top, that’s how many steps the World Trade Center towers contained prior to Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, when America was attacked in a massive way on its own soil for the first time since Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds and hundreds of New York’s Bravest responded to the call of what was to be the most horrific tragedy in a generation.

At 8:46 a.m., the first plane struck the north tower. Seventeen minutes later, the south tower was struck. At 9:59 a.m., the south tower collapsed. At 10:28 a.m., the north tower crumbled.

Two thousand, six hundred and six people perished in New York that day and a total of 2,996 died following planes crashing into the Pentagon and a field in Sommerset County, Pennsylvania. Hundreds more have died of injuries and illnesses in the aftermath of the attacks.

Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the world’s deadliest terrorist attack. Throughout the nation there were ceremonies and events to mark the sad day. Many in our little corner of the world joined in, including at a rededication of a 9/11 memorial in Indianapolis and a ceremony in Michigan City.

And in La Porte, with little fanfare, four city firefighters gathered to represent those fallen first responders. In fact, if not for a Pop Warner football game to be held later in the morning, only a couple of people would have witnessed the tribute.

At about 8 a.m. La Porte City firefighters Captain Carl Wisniewski, Captain Doug Biernacki, Keith Wiegel and Eddie Wineland donned full gear, including air packs, and began 70 rotations up and down the stairs at Kiwanis Field. Seventy trips up and down the Slicer-orange steps adds up to 2,071. Quite a physical tribute to honor their fellow firefighters from two decades past.

As I watched the firemen move up and down the steps, I could see the determination on their faces. The seriousness of their task was as clear as the sweat on their brows.

I don’t know if anything could ever take away the sting of the loss of one person, let alone 343 firefighters. One or two generations of families in New York may never completely get past that tremendous loss. I don’t know if the world will ever return to the more secure feeling we all had before 9/11.

But I do know that, from my perspective in the Kiwanis cheap seats, these four firefighters stepped up to the plate and hit the grand slam of remembrance.

As I drove away from Kiwanis Field I teared up just a bit, partly due to again feeling the overwhelming sense of loss, but mostly from experiencing the sincere sense of pride that came from watching the selfless act of four of La Porte’s Bravest as they honored the fallen.

On September 11, 2001, hundreds of firefighters climbed the stairs of the World Trade Center’s two towers with one monumental task: to save lives. They did so knowing full well that their mission would very possibly end their own lives.

Twenty years later, four La Porte firefighters climbed stairs to honor the sacrifices made that day.

Well done, gentlemen. Well done.

4 Responses to “In this quiet tribute to 9/11, numbers mattered”

  1. RiJuPhi

    Sep 13. 2021

    Well done, indeed men. Well done!
    Thank you, Mike.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Corey

    Sep 13. 2021

    A nice, reflective tribute to the impact of 9/11/01 and how we are still seeking perspective on this attack on the U.S. An immense tribute by these young men.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Dr Jim Edwards

    Sep 13. 2021

    I’m proud of you guys! And I’m proud of all the other La Porte Firefighters You make a huge difference in our community.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Norma Mulzon

    Sep 13. 2021

    So proud of the LaPorte City Firefighter Family !!!!!!

    Reply to this comment

Leave a Reply to Norma Mulzon