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Baltimore County man keeping the promise to remember 9/11

Chuck Ritz and his volunteers found the ground rock-hard as they began planting thousands of American flags along Putty Hill Road in Parkville to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Last year, the wooden stakes went into the earth easily, and the task was done in three hours, but not this time.

"We were using any tool we could find to make a hole in the ground," said Ritz, 54, who has been organizing 9/11 events here since the 10th anniversary in 2011. One man brought a power drill, but the batteries didn't hold up. Others used screwdrivers and hammers.

It took 12 hours last Friday, moving east from Old Harford Road to Harford Road, roughly a quarter mile. As many as 10 volunteers worked to create the "Path of Honor," as Ritz calls it, a route running past homes, a shopping center and Parkville High School.

Ritz said that as he struggled to plant one flag after another, he thought how each one represented a life lost, and how he wanted passersby to remember, and the high school students strolling by to remember, even if many of them were toddlers when the terrorists struck, killing 2,977 people.

"Every one I put in the ground, I do it with care. … Just to think about that next person you're honoring," said Ritz, a former Parkville resident who now lives in Cockeysville.

On Tuesday, he sat at a table outside McAvoy's restaurant in the Putty Hill Shopping Center with a view of the flags. The culmination of his three days of commemoration — after Friday's flag placement and a motorcycle ride Saturday — is scheduled tonight, a candlelight vigil in the shopping center lot at 7:30.

He plans to bring two antique solid-brass church bells, on loan from the Bells for Remembrance organization, to the ceremony, where they will ring 120 times, once for each Maryland service member killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed the terrorist attack. Two veterans of the wars will be on hand, along with the Harford Highlanders pipe and drum band. A National Guard bugler will play taps.

Ritz, a facilities and events manager for the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, has no personal connection to the attacks 12 years ago. He had not met people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, until he started getting involved in organizing commemorations.

Yet, he said, something profound happened to him that day.

"I think it changed my life. … It made me aware of how short life is," Ritz said. Organizing commemorations, he said, "is just my way of saying thank you" to the men and women in uniform who responded to the disaster that day, and who have fought since in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He said the events resonated with particular force as he's the son of a retired Baltimore firefighter and the brother of a retired Baltimore police officer.

"My wife says I spend too much time doing it," he said of the commemorations, adding quickly that Hope Ritz supports the pursuit and has teamed up with him to establish the Hope and Peace Foundation, which raises awareness and money for a number of causes, including Sept. 11 remembrance.

Seeing people emotionally moved at the events, and knowing they're pausing to think about the events of 12 years ago, makes it worthwhile.

There was Jeff Becker, for instance, a 39-year-old Parkville man who spotted the flags on Putty Hill Road while running errands Tuesday morning. He returned in the afternoon to take pictures.

"I thought that it was a really cool, respectful and interesting way to remember 9/11," he said. "It's a way of remembering how life was before 9/11 and give a moment to think about how life has changed."

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