West Linn pauses for 9-11, honors firefighter lost in Hot Shot tragedy

WEST LINN, Ore. - As the sun set over the Willamette River on Wednesday, Sept. 11, a wreath was laid into the water while a bell rang softly in the background.

The solemn ceremony at the Willamette Park boat ramp in West Linn was one of many in our area where folks paused to reflect on the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and remember those who lost their lives.

They say time heals all wounds and as each year goes by, the emotions may fade deeper into the past. But as a nation, we will not forget.

"I have no words for it," said Staff Sgt. Randy Cerda, who served a tour in Afghanistan and was at Thursday's remembrance along the Willamette River. "You see the attack on the United States and the many innocent lives (that were lost) . And the first responders - fire department, police department - and just civilians trying to help other people. Just that loss."

Cerda's children were born after 9-11, but he said they all understand what happened to the United States that day. One of his daughters had a difficult time explaining what scared her most about 9-11, but knew exactly how she felt about when her dad was away from home while serving overseas. "I feel sad and not happy," she said.

Children who have grown up post 9-11 are certainly living in a different world, one where we are more wary about what is happening not only on U.S. soil, but abroad.

"For those of us who have had kids post 9-11, they've never known a world without Homeland Security and the extra security at the airports and kind of a little heightened sense of fear," said Representative Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn. "And I hope that at some point, that goes away for our kids - that we are not bringing children into a world where they are living in fear."

Parrish, who makes it a point to attend West Linn's 9-11 remembrance each year, is deeply involved in veteran's affairs for Oregon and also feels a personal connection to 9-11. Her family is a military family - her husband served a tour in Iraq back in 2009-2010.

A banner recognizing the loss of West Linn native John Percin, Jr., and his fellow firefighters, that was on display at the 9-11 Remembrance in West Linn. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

This year's remembrance also hit close to home for the community of West Linn as a whole. One of their own, 24-year-old John Percin Jr., was among the 19 firefighters who lost their lives this summer while fighting a wildfire in Arizona.

FILE - Firefighters from around Oregon and the Northwest honor John Percin Jr. (Kai Hayashi /

It was the nation's biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years and the deadliest single day for firefighters since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Percin was raised in Oregon and graduated from West Linn High School, where he played basketball and football.

He moved to Arizona almost three years ago and was part of the Granite Mountain "Hotshots," an elite firefighting force based in Prescott, Ariz.

The young man's parents were special guests at West Linn's 9-11 remembrance, which focused on honoring first responders, like Percin, who risk their lives to save others and sometimes do not make it.

"As a community, I would like to tell the Percin family how sorry we are for the loss of John," West Linn Mayor John Kovash told the crowd who gathered at Willamette Park. "He was protecting another community against a wildfire. Today we remember John, and 9-11, and all of those who have protected us in the past and who do so today."

The parents of John Percin, Jr., a Hot Shot firefighter who was killed along with 18 other members of his crew, are honored as special guests at Willamette Park on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. The two are pictured on the far right. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,