PORT ANGELES — The sound of bagpipes filled the air around an I-beam from Ground Zero at the Francis Street Park on Sunday, marking the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks amid an impromptu ceremony.
Ricky McKenzie, a retired Coast Guard Veteran, has played his highland bagpipes at the Port Angeles 9/11 memorial for the past three years.
For him, it’s just something he should do to pay respects and honor those who lost their lives and to honor those who work in public safety, he said.
Once finished at the park, he went to the Port Angeles Fire Station on Fifth Street to play for firemen who had just returned from a call.
“It should be done and it’s important that people remember,” he said.
McKenzie walked toward the memorial from the parking area playing “Lament for the Fair Maid of Barra,” stood in silence for a few minutes, then played “Amazing Grace” as he left.
When he arrived, he found an impromptu ceremony that had been planned the night before.
McKenzie didn’t say a word while at the park or at the fire station until after the ceremonies were over.
“I just think it’s nice to show your respects and you don’t necessarily have to say anything,” he said. “The pipes speak for themselves.
“It’s a very emotional instrument. The pipes do the talking for me.”
McKenzie was stationed at Air Station Detroit during the attacks Sept. 11, 2001, and what he saw that day from others in the military was amazing, he said.
“Coast Guard people in general are doers; If something needs to be done, we go help people,” he said. “We got to work right away.”
He remembered telling his wife that day he didn’t know when he was going to be home.
For the past three years, he has played at precisely noon, whether there was an audience or not. In the previous two years, he said people would just come and go — usually in silence.
“The first two years I did it, there would be people just stopping by for a minute or two,” he said. “There wasn’t a big crowd.”
That changed this year.
As McKenzie walked toward the I-beam at the park, he saw American Legion Riders from Walter Akeley Post 29 holding American flags and Marine Corps League members standing at attention.
A small crowd also gathered, some saluting him as he left the park.
McKenzie wasn’t told about the ceremony and was surprised to see so many people this year.
Alan Barnard, chairman of the Clallam County Public Safety Tribute Committee and American Legion Rider, said he wanted to surprise McKenzie with a last-minute ceremony.
Barnard had talked the day before with Gary Velie, president of the Clallam County Veterans Association, who said it wouldn’t be hard to get some support for McKenzie.
Velie put the word out Saturday night and by noon Sunday there were enough American Legion Riders and Marine Corps League members to have a ceremony.
“It turned out to be what we’ll call a flash ceremony,” Barnard said.
He said it was remarkable that McKenzie plays rain or shine, even when no one is there.
McKenzie, who has played the pipes for four years, said it started with him just going to the memorial on his lunch break three years ago.
Now, he plans to play his pipes Sept. 11 every year at noon until he is no longer physically able to.
The memorial originated with two Port Angeles Coast Guardsmen: Samuel Allen and Andrew Moravec.
They asked the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey for the piece in 2009, and delivery was sanctioned by the 9/11 Commission.
It was pulled from a building where 2,752 people died, including 343 New York City firefighters, 37 Port Authority police officers and 23 New York City police officers.
“I would like to think that everyone who lives here would go down at some point to Francis Street Park and put their hands on that I-beam,” he said. “It’s a very moving experience to put your hands on that piece of steel and know what happened that day.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at email@example.com.