Tomahawk community continues tradition of honoring 9/11 victims, first responders

Annual Patriot Day ceremony lives on 18 years after attacks


By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor

TOMAHAWK – The Tomahawk community continued its tradition of honoring the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, as well as the emergency personnel who responded to the scene, in a ceremony held at Generations Funeral Home in Tomahawk Wednesday, Sept. 11.

Michael “Gus” Caylor of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office began the ceremony by touching on the importance of maintaining the sense of solidarity that occurred after the attacks.

Pastor Larry Mathein
Pastor Larry Mathein

“For those of you who are assembled here today, we all made a vow. We said we’d never forget,” Caylor said. “We will never let the memory of those who died that day, and in the years that followed, ever fade. We know the only way to honor those who were lost after the events of Sept. 11 is to reclaim the spirit of unity which followed.”

Pastor Larry Mathein led attendees in a prayer, saying, “This date, 9/11, carries a heavy burden of memory, and it is right that it should not pass from our memory. But today, in our prayers, in our thoughts, and in our remembrance of profound loss, it also seems right that we give voice to our deep longing for peace.”

Tomahawk Mayor Steve Taskay thanked first responders, firefighters and police officers on behalf of the city, and added that he hopes to see the annual ceremony continue in years to come.

Special Agent Leah Nemetz of the FBI Field Office in Wausau discussed law enforcement in the post-9/11 world. “Since 9/11, the FBI changed its priorities to prevent another terrorist attack. The FBI prioritized national security threats, such as counterterrorism, counterintelligence and cyber security, developing capabilities to stop terrorist attacks before they occur, rather than investigating them afterwards.”

Special Agent Leah Nemetz of the FBI Field Office in Wausau
Special Agent Leah Nemetz of the FBI Field Office in Wausau

Town of Nokomis Fire Department Chief Don Richert offered some perspective from the EMS community, highlighting the effects the attacks had in the years that followed. Richert said that for the EMS community, “life as we know it changed that day,” and added that the attacks left “many hard lessons.”

Richert also discussed the necessity of departments from different areas working together. “In the days and weeks after 9/11, we had to reorganize and recognize the need for a unified command,” he stated. “We have learned to embrace our neighboring departments more. We work together better. We train together. We have to. We do not have a choice.”

Richert also noted that the personnel who were active before 9/11 or joined immediately following the attacks are becoming “the old guard” and that volunteer numbers are dwindling.

“To those both young and old: if you still want to do your part, if you never want to forget, if you want to give back, I ask that you seek out your local fire department and ask if your first responder group needs help,” he said.

Town of Nokomis Fire Department Chief Don Richert
Town of Nokomis Fire Department Chief Don Richert

Tomahawk Fire Department Lieutenant and owner of Generations Funeral Home Kevin Krueger provided a recap of the events of 9/11 and provided stories of emergency personnel who were lost in the attacks. He also glowingly described the local personnel he has worked with.

“Firefighters, EMS and police go into situations that most people would walk away from. … These people, outside of this funeral home, when I work with them, I can honestly say, (they) are some of my proudest hours. I have seen things that they have done that would amaze you. There are people walking around Tomahawk and the surrounding area today because of them.”

Tom Garrigan, a current Tomahawk resident who was working as a physician’s assistant in a Connecticut hospital on 9/11, recalled his experience of visiting Ground Zero. “I had been to New York a number of times. I had seen the World Trade Center a number of times. … I walked up Church Street, and when I turned the corner, I was struck by the sky. … If you’ve ever been to New York City, you don’t see the sky unless you look straight up. … It struck me at that moment, the scope of the tragedy. I thought about 3,000 people having died, and I sat down and I cried. I’ll never forget that.”

Tomahawk Fire Department Lieutenant and owner of Generations Funeral Home Kevin Krueger
Tomahawk Fire Department Lieutenant and owner of Generations Funeral Home Kevin Krueger

Bill Burcalow, an organizer of the annual Patriot Day ceremony, spoke about Gold Star families, who lost loved ones in the conflicts overseas that followed 9/11. “We have some (Gold Star families) in our community. If you see these people, give them your support.”

Tomahawk’s annual Patriot Day ceremony is unique to the Northwoods, something Caylor noted. “A lot of communities had events in the days and years after 9/11, and a lot of them have gone by the wayside,” Caylor said. “Tomahawk not only has continued that tradition every year, but it has clearly grown.”

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