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A ship’s bell rings to remember those lost in the 9/11 attacks.

Navy ROTC personnel from the University of Illinois ring the U.S.S. Illinois Bell at the Champaign Fire Department's 9/11 Memorial Ceremony at West Side Park on Monday. On the right, Navy ROTC Battalion Lt. Haadi Elsaawy.

A bell from the U.S.S. Illinois was used twice in Champaign on Monday to remember those lost in the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

Construction of the World War Two-era battleship was never completed. But the ship’s bell has been preserved and is on a long-term loan to the University of Illinois. It’s rung for each point at Illinois home football games, when the Illini score a touchdown. And on September 11, it was rung to mark a more somber occasion. 

Participants climb 1,980 steps to remember first responders

Early on Monday morning, the U.S.S. Illinois bell was rung during the annual 9/11 Stair Climb at the university’s Memorial Stadium.

As participants climbed 1,980 steps, matching the number of steps taken by first responders inside the World Trade Center towers, the U.S.S. Illinois bell was rung to note crucial events during the 2001 attack, such as the moments that planes flew into the Twin Towers, or the moments those towers collapsed.

Navy Lieutenant Haadi Elsaawy, with the Navy ROTC Battalion at the U of I, says timing the bell ringing in this way showed Stair Climb participants how little time first responders had to save people in the towers.

“All these people that responded, they were climbing these stairs, countless numbers of stairs, and all of it was happening in 30, 45 minutes,” said Elsaawy. “So it’s very sobering to hear that while you’re doing the stair climb and remembering the events that transpired on 9-11.”

Champaign Firefighters 9/11 Memorial Ceremony

After the stair climb, the U.S.S. Illinois bell was taken to the Police and Firefighters Memorial at West Side Park in downtown Champaign. There, Navy ROTC personnel rang it nine times at the beginning of the Champaign Fire Department’s annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony, in memory of the civilians, firefighters and first responders killed in the attacks.

In past years, ceremony has opened with the ringing of a nearby church bell. But this year, the church’s bell was out of commission, leading to the use of the ship’s bell instead. 

In her remarks at the ceremony, Champaign Mayor Deborah Frank Feinen reminded the gathering that the attack on New York’s World Trade Center occurred on a clear day, under a bright blue sky. She noted the collapse of the Twin Towers created a dust cloud that blocked the sky from the view of first responders.

“Although those directly in the chaos could not see the sky, it remained blue and clear on that September day, reminding us of faith, hope, inspiration and freedom,” Feinen said.

The mayor said that those qualities describe the more than 400 firefighters and other first responders who died during the 9-11 attacks, as they tried to rescue people inside the Twin Towers. 

The Champaign Fire Department has been holding its 9-11 memorial ceremony ever since 2002, on the first anniversary of the attacks.

Interviewed after the ceremony, Champaign Fire Department Captain Brian Ball said the deaths of first responders in the attacks strikes a chord with first responders everywhere.

“You had some kind of personal response to what happened that day, knowing that people who you did not know, but were doing the same exact job as you do, went to work that morning not expecting for any of those events to take place, nor to lose their life,” said Ball. “And so that’s part of why we want to have that responsibility of keeping that remembrance going and having this observance every year to remind people, and educate the younger generation, who may not even have been born yet.”

Picture of Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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