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New York governor signs new laws to support 9/11 first responders

People enter a chapel at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba on September 11. (Ellie Kaufman/CNN)

Twenty years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, a group of military members, family members of 9/11 victims and observers gathered in a chapel in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at the same time the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center to honor the almost 3,000 lives lost that day.

The small ceremony dedicated to the lives lost, especially the lives of two victims whose family members traveled to Guantanamo to spend the anniversary, recounted the events of September 11 as they occurred that morning, retelling them in small fragments interrupted only by the single toll of a bell.

Elizabeth Berry, the sister of Capt. William “Billy” Francis Burke, Jr., gave a speech to those gathered in the chapel, describing the sacrifices her brother made that day as the leader of his fire department, Engine 21, in Manhattan.

Burke led his firefighters to Ground Zero after the towers were struck, she said. He was on the 27th floor of the North Tower, trying to evacuate people from the building, when the South Tower fell.

After the South Tower fell, a mayday call went out on the radio, Berry said. Burke told his firefighters to evacuate the building and get to safety, but he stayed behind with two men, one of whom was in a wheelchair and couldn’t be evacuated. 

“Captain Burke kept promising on the radio to meet at the brig. He said keep going, I’ll be right behind you, but he wasn’t,” Berry said to the crowd at the chapel. “I think he knew when he stayed behind, he probably would die.”

Because he told two companies of men to leave, they all survived. Burke stayed behind with the two men until the tower collapsed. His remains were never found, Berry said. 

Berry is one of five family members that traveled to Guantanamo Bay this week to observe pretrial hearings in the military commission case of five people accused of plotting and executing the 9/11 attacks. The case has been in pretrial litigation since 2012 when the five men, who are detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison, were arraigned.

Berry and her husband, Paul, still hope that one day the case will be brought to trial and there will be some level of justice for her and other family members that survived victims of the attacks.

“I think justice for each of us has a very different definition. I will speak for me, only me, justice is telling the world in a trial what these terrorists did to murder so many people,” Paul Berry said. “That’s justice, and from that the verdict will be what the verdict is.”

Honoring lives lost: The Naval base held a commemorative 9.11km run in the morning, followed by a raising of the flag from the Naval base headquarters with the base’s commanding officer and a ceremony at the base’s chapel.

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