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On 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks, Napa Valley speakers pledge never to forget

On 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks, Napa Valley speakers pledge never to forget


Flowers, bagpipes, prayers and reminiscences marked ceremonies in Napa, American Canyon and Yountville on Saturday to commemorate the two decades since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Twenty years have passed since the unimaginable terror of hijacked planes turned into weapons that killed nearly 3,000 people. On Saturday, the wave of remembrances across the country extended into the Napa Valley, where local leaders urged residents to keep memories alive – those who lost their lives, or saved lives, on Sept. 11, 2001.

In Yountville, Napa and American Canyon, hundreds gathered at 9/11 memorials crafted from fragments of the World Trade Center that had fallen exactly two decades earlier in New York City. Speakers and spectators paid their respects with flowers placed at sculptures, prayers for peace and understanding, and stories of family and friends and acquaintances who were spared on 9/11 – or who died.

Standing in front of the Napa 9/11 Memorial and its glass panes inscribed with the 2,977 names of those who lost their lives in New York, outside Washington, D.C. and in western Pennsylvania, Bernie Narvaez, a Napa city councilman and former U.S. Marine, urged nearly 200 spectators to hold memories of the day close, even as its events slowly recede into history.

“As each year goes by, we must not let the memories of the names behind me be allowed to perish, to be forgotten,” he said as an enormous U.S. flag extended from a fire-truck ladder above the memorial, which Napa dedicated in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

The remembrances in Napa County joined numerous others that took place nationwide on Saturday, highlighted by the ceremonies where four hijacked jetliners crashed in 2001 – the World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington D.C., and the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where a plane went down after United Airlines Flight 93 passengers rushed the cockpit to stop hijackers from a probable second attack on the nation’s capital.

Yountville’s ceremony was the morning’s first in the county, as participants paused at 7:28 a.m. for a minute of silence and a bugler’s playing of taps at the moment two decades earlier when the World Trade Center’s north tower collapsed, 29 minutes after the fall of its twin to the south.

“It’s amazing to think we have an entire generation that has grown up since 9/11,” Mayor John Dunbar said of the millions with no personal memories of the day. “So it’s very important for us to remember the lives that have been lost, and the lives that have been forever changed.”

Among the day’s most affecting memories were those shared in Napa by Tom Knepell, a retired Navy pilot who was on a family visit to New York in September 2001.

On that day, Knepell’s nephew and godson died at the World Trade Center’s north tower when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into its upper floors, igniting the fireball that would lead to its collapse less than two hours later. A sister was at St. Vincent’s hospital as nurses and doctors prepared for a flood of injured patients that turned out to be only a trickle when the death toll in the twin towers soared above 2,000.

“Everybody in New York had a story,” he told audience members at Napa’s 9/11 Memorial Garden on Main Street. “They lost family members; they lost friends; they lost schoolmates; they lost work mates; they lost buddies from the military. Or they had near misses.”

In the following days, he continued, a newspaper headline proclaiming “UNITED WE STAND” became an immediate slogan of perseverance for New Yorkers, many of them turning it into a clipping to be pasted on cars, trains, walls and windows.

“That was one of our best moments,” he said Saturday. “United we stood, and I wish we could say that again today.”

During the 9/11 ceremony outside the American Canyon Public Safety Building, Assistant Fire Chief Jim Comisky spoke of the New York City firemen he befriended when the three were instructors at a firefighting conference in Indianapolis. Both friends, Andrew Fredericks and Dana Hannon, died at the World Trade Center in 2001.

“There’s a whole generation that wasn’t old enough to understand that day, and it’s difficult,” he said late Saturday afternoon, describing the catharsis of sharing the fallen firefighters’ stories. “I’ve been a firefighter for 43 years and some of these younger folks weren’t old enough to understand. It’s important to never forget.”

Comisky, who retires Monday, also pointed to the presence of Sikh, Muslim and other religious speakers in American Canyon as a symbol of the tolerance he said can and should still be possible even as memories of 9/11 endure.

“'Never forget’ is not about hatred,” he said. "‘Never forget’ is remembering what happened to us and never allowing that to happen again.”

Most people would run, terrified, from the eye of a devastating attack, but these firefighters went fearlessly into the heart of the unknown to save lives. A look at those who traveled across the country from both California and Ohio’s Task Force One, to help in the valiant efforts on 9/11.

Series: Napa County residents share their Sept. 11 memories and reflections

The Napa Valley Register asked readers to share their thoughts about the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Thank you to our readers for sharing your reflections and memories as we lead up to the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

  • Updated

Early in the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my sister and I were in an Arlington, Texas, motel bouncing on our suitcases, trying to close them so we could meet our Exit Texas schedule. My brother-in-law phoned, directing us to the television.

  • Updated

I don’t just remember that tragic day on Sept. 11 when trite references to the horror blip by on the news. I remember it every single day of my life, as do countless others — those of us who were in New York, people all over our world.

  • Updated

On 9/11, David and I awoke to a glorious salmon-colored sunrise at our favorite high mountain lodge on Tioga Pass — just outside of Yosemite. We were at 10,000 feet elevation watching the vibrant sun shine off the majestic surrounding granite mountains. So close to heaven.

  • Updated

Visiting our brother and family near New York, that Tuesday morning we first heard about a bombing in the World Trade Center. The reports were confused. Then the tone of reporting changed from total confusion to absolute disbelief as events turned even worse.

  • Updated

As an Air Force veteran and a Vietnam veteran, I grieved for the 3,500 who died that horrible day and consider them comrades in arms. They gave their lives for their country just as surely as any soldier, sailor, Marine or airman. They didn’t sign up to become combatants, but they surely were.

You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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