Flag-wavers held their flags high, as drivers passing by on U.S. 41 honked their horns in support.
The red, white and blue draped with stars has always symbolized America, but on this particular Tuesday, it held a much more significant meaning. It was 17 years to the day of the 9/11 attacks.
Local members of the GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club, and other members of the community, stood outside the Old Lutz School, flags in hand, to commemorate the lives lost that horrific day.
They, like others in the country, paused to reflect and show gratitude to heroes past, and those still present.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the way of life in America.
On that morning, 19 men hijacked four U.S. commercial airplanes, crashing them into the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A total of 2,977 people were killed in the attacks orchestrated by al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, according to national reports.
The aftermath left many with long-term effects, both physical and emotional.
“In 2002, we started this because we wanted to remember,” said Pat Serio, coordinator of the event. “We wanted to share our patriotism and support.”
Serio, like others, knows exactly where she was when she first heard of the attacks.
She was at home watching the news when regular broadcasting was interrupted by the flowing smoke from the World Trade Center.
Her initial reaction was: ““It has to be an aviation problem,” she recalled.
Not long after, Serio came to find out that the country was under attack.
“As a (native) New Yorker, I felt the impact,” Serio added.
Dee Knerr, who also took part in the flag-waving tribute, said she was scheduled to fly back to Florida on Sept.11, after visiting family in Ohio.
“I was scheduled to fly home that afternoon, getting ready to go to the airport,” said Knerr. “Of course, all the flights were cancelled.”
After working 40 years at the Lutz Post Office, Knerr is now retired and dedicates her time to the woman’s club.
Besides remembering the lives that were lost on Sept. 11, the tribute was also intended to honor American troops, law enforcement and firefighters.
“They put their lives out there every day for us,” said Knerr. “I want to thank them all from the bottom of my heart.”
Ben Nevel, a member of the Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building, also took part in the tribute.
“We all need to stand together,” said Nevel, a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Another member of the crowd was Linda Mitchell, a Lutz native and retired teacher.
She recalled being conflicted, as the news broke about the terrorist attacks.
She decided not to show the news coverage in her class.
“It was hard being a teacher during that day,” she said. “We wanted to know as citizens what was going on, but we were protecting our students.”
Before retirement, she had the opportunity to teach children who were born after 9/11.
She said there was a stark contrast between how students who lived during the incident perceived it, and those who came after.
The memorial also came as something personal for Mitchell, as both her husband and son serve as Hillsborough County firefighters.
In waving their flags, the men and women gathered in front of the Old Lutz School were reminding those passing by about the need to remember the fallen, and to express gratitude for the men and women who continue to put themselves in harm’s way, whether they are wearing military uniforms, or serving as first responders.
Published September 19, 2018