The Old Mountain Road overpass across I-95 in the Joppa area was dappled with red, white and blue Wednesday as people gathered and waved American flags at motorists in an observance of the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Car and truck drivers responded by laying on their horns, with some truck horns sounding like locomotives.
The annual flag-waving event, sponsored by Joppa resident Steve Jackson and Del. Pat McDonough, whose district includes Harford County, has been held on I-95 overpasses in the Joppa area since 2002, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York City, the Pentagon in Northern Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
Nineteen hijackers, affiliated with the al-Qaida terror organization, captured four American passenger aircraft; two crashed into the World Trade Center towers, one into the Pentagon and the fourth, United 93, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers tried to take it back from the hijackers.
Hundreds of New York firefighters, police officers and EMTs were among those who perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
Army Maj. Scott Willens, who is stationed in Edgewood and lives in Baltimore County, attended Wednesday's event.
The Tenafly, N.J. native, whose senior prom was held in the top of the World Trade Center during the late 1980s, joined the military three days after the attacks. He was in his 30s and had been working as a veterinarian for five years; he was pursuing his doctorate in pharmacology at N.C. State University at the time of the attacks.
"It's my backyard," he said of New York. "I had family and friends that worked in the area that thankfully made it out okay."
Willens, who was deployed to Iraq and embedded with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in 2007, called 9/11 "our Pearl Harbor moment," referring to the Japanese attack on U.S. Navy ships moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941 that forced the United States into World War II.
Americans who were alive at the time remembered where they were when they heard the news about Pearl Harbor, even decades after the event, the same as those who remember 9/11.
"You don't just sit back and watch that happen if there's something you can do," Willens said.
He noted the American military and public cannot become fatigued, even after 12 consecutive years of fighting the War on Terror.
"We have to continue to be a force for good, even if no one else is doing it, and this is not the kind of enemy that gets war weary," he said of al-Qaida.
The father of three explained that "sometimes a victory isn't so tangible. It's measured by every single day that your kids are safe. That's a victory."
The annual flag-waving event is also supported by Del. Rick Impallaria, who also represents Harford County in Annapolis and lives in Joppa, and the members of the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company such as Assistant Fire Chief Jason Freund, said Jean Ann Wilson.
Wilson, president of the Joppa Resident Council and a former legislative aide for McDonough, was the event coordinator. She said about 50 to 100 people attended Wednesday's flag-waving event, including fire company members.
A Joppa-Magnolia ladder truck was parked on the overpass; a large American flag hung from the extended ladder, floating and twirling in the breeze.
Firefighter Teddy Spruell, who has been a member of the company for four years, was in high school when the 9/11 attacks occurred.
"I'm glad to see the public still remembers," Spruell said of the commuters honking their horns. "You don't forget what happened that day; we lost 343 [New York] firemen that day."
Spruell's younger brothers, Jesse and Joseph, are also in the Harford County fire service, as members of the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company.
Impallaria said the Old Mountain Road overpass, which is next to a park-and-ride lot, served as a convenient location for flag wavers, and allows "all those people commuting on I-95 to see that we haven't forgotten what happened on 9/11."
He said the event gives motorists "an opportunity to participate in the remembrance, even if it's just blowing their horns and waving."
Brian Sams, of Darlington, waved a flag with the names of "every person lost" on 9/11. He ordered the flag online.
He said he was on the overpass "to honor all of our lost citizens who perished, our veterans and soldiers who fought for our country."
LeRoy Edmunds III, of Bel Air, waved a flag while standing on top of a 1958 Ward LaFrance fire truck he had spent three years restoring with his father, LeRoy Jr.
LeRoy III is a Baltimore County career firefighter, and volunteers with Joppa-Magnolia. He noted the engine, which belonged to Ferndale's volunteer fire company bore the number 343, the number of New York firefighters killed at the World Trade Center.
He said he and his fellow Baltimore County firefighters at Station 16 became friends with firefighters in the FDNY's Engine 16/Ladder 7 after making a bet on Super Bowl XXXV, when the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants in early 2001.
Eight months later, Edmunds and other Baltimore County firefighters traveled to New York to console their grieving brothers, who lost nine of their comrades in the World Trade Center collapse.
"People were so nice to us," Edmunds told The Baltimore Sun about the trip to New York for a 2001 story. "We went into a biker bar and people clapped. Strangers on the street hugged us. We told them we weren't from New York, we were from Baltimore. And they said, `We don't care, we love you. ... You're here. You came up here to support our guys.' "
Wayne Howell, of Joppa, leaned on several large bamboo poles to which he had attached American flags.
He recalled his cousin, Steven, who was working in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and lost his life in the collapse.
Howell said his cousin was on a floor above where one of the two planes hit, and "didn't have a chance."
He said he has taken part in nearly every flag-waving event in remembrance of his cousin.
"I love it, he said. "Hopefully they understand everything that happened [on 9/11] and remember it and never forget it."