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Waukesha County 9/11 Ceremony Recalls Emotions

Former Waukesha mayor and others share memories of community gathering after terrorist attacks.

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on our nation is looming before us, but those in the Waukesha County community are doing what they can to make sure we never forget that day – the lives lost, the sacrifices given and the community that came together.

“I can’t believe it has been 10 years,” said former Waukesha Mayor Carol Lombardi, who was elected into office from 1998 to 2006.

Lombardi is one of the coordinators of Waukesha County Remembers Sept. 11, 2001, an annual event that honors first responders while memorializing those who were killed in the terrorist attacks. The remembrance event is being held at 11:55 a.m. Sept. 9 at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy.

The other coordinators of the event are Brian Dorow, who is the Waukesha County Technical College’s associate dean in the Department of Criminal Justice, and St. John’s President Jack Albert.

“It was the most significant act of domestic terrorism in the United States,” Dorow said. “A lot of innocent people lost their lives, as well as first responders who were just courageous and brave as they responded there and did everything they could. … It is worth remembering this significant event by having these memorials.”

Dorow is hoping that about 1,000 people attend the ceremony on Sept. 9. But, it’s not about the numbers for the associate dean of criminal justice at Waukesha County Technical College.

“I am not really concerned about the number of people that show up,” Dorow said. “It is not a rock concert – those that feel the need to go, go there.”

Dorow highlighted several new parts to the program, which includes Sen. Ron Johnson as the keynote speaker, the firing of a canon and a 21-gun salute.

Various community members also will be there to honor “the true heroes of 9-11, who were the first responders, which are the fire and police,” Lombardi said.

will be speaking, as will Waukesha County Sheriff Dan Trawicki.

Muskego Police Chief Paul Gieszler also will be speaking at the event.

Remembering Sept. 11, 2001

Dorow had just left the at the conclusion of working the late night shift as a city police officer. He was about to go to bed after working from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. when his wife called him to tell him to turn on the TV.

“I probably watched the news for a day straight without moving,” Dorow said. “I have a really significant tie to the incident.”

Dorow just didn’t know it until hours later when he received a phone call from a mutual friend who had introduced him to John P. O’Neill.

O’Neill, a retired deputy director of the FBI, had just started working at the World Trade Center, heading up the security of the building. When the first tower was hit by the hijacked airplanes, O’Neill quickly ran into second tower.

He didn’t make it.

Beyond a career of trying to take down terrorist Osama bin Laden, O’Neill was Dorow’s mentor. O’Neill encouraged Dorow in his days after college to pursue his career in law enforcement.

“He was a neat guy, a really neat guy,” Dorow said.

Gieszler was in the training office where they were in self-defense training on Sept. 11, 2001, he said in an e-mail.

“One of our officers came downstairs and advised us that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said in the e-mail. “As we watched the events unfolding, it became clear that this was a terrorist attack on the United States. We watched as people were running away from the buildings while police officers and firefighters ran towards the buildings to help in any way they could. 

“It was gratifying to watch these heroes putting themselves in harm’s way in an attempt to save lives, without regard for their own safety.”

Lombardi recalled the events that day as she received phone call after phone call about what the city would do if the terrorists would crash into nearby Chicago or Milwaukee. Lombardi remembers being thankful the city had just adopted its new emergency preparedness plan, which outlined what the city government could do if a disaster loomed before the Waukesha residents.

“One of the things as mayor of the community, you truly are responsible for the safety of your community,” Lombardi said. “… That morning, when I came into the that bombing was just beginning at that World Trade Center.”

The entire nation felt the devastation, Lombardi said, as the news reports, images and stories began flooding in about the four planes that had hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

“I especially did a lot of praying in my car as I was driving up to City Hall to let me show the leadership to this community, to reassure persons that for any kind of emergency, we were trained and ready to assist them – whether that would be seeing people fleeing from Chicago, seeing people fleeing from Milwaukee out here, because nobody knew if there would be next attacks or where they would be,” Lombardi said.

The first community vigil

Lombardi helped , now known as Carroll University, organize a community vigil to come together, pray for those who lost their lives, for the first responders and for the survivors.

“Also to bring into that service, the need as never before to ask God to give a safety blessing to any and all persons, no matter where they were,” Lombardi said. “And to have witnessed again the devastation of all of the loss of lives, to come together to pray for the souls of all of those persons, whether they were in Washington, whether they were in New York, whether they were out in the field with airplane there.”

The New Perspective at Carroll College had this to say in September 2001 about the prayer vigil:

The mayor said she believes the tragedies will not have a negative effect on the city of Waukesha, and they will actually “unite the community as never before.”

“Community is where safety is,” Lombardi said, “and we are that community.”

A few years after leaving the mayor’s office, Lombardi said she was inspired to bring together key people in organizing the annual remembrance event. She decided to incorporate into the event an honoring of all first responders who have made it their mission to help save lives.

Lombardi personally knows how dangerous that risk is. Her brother-in-law Mike Geszvain, a Waukesha County sheriff’s deputy, was killed by a prisoner in 1978 in the Waukesha County Courthouse.

“My brother-in-law went to work in the morning and never came home again,” Lombardi said. “…. That truly is a career that so many times people don’t understand how quickly an emergency can happen and how quickly you can lose your life saving someone else.”

– Muskego Patch editor Denise Konkol contributed to this report.

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