Hundreds of hikers will scale Monserate Mountain the morning of Sept. 9 as participants in the seventh annual 9/11 Memorial Hill Climb, an event that honors firefighters and law enforcement officers who gave their lives trying to rescue people in the World Trade Center immediately following the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City in 2001.
An informational flyer promoting the 9/11 Memorial Hill Climb, a fundraiser that benefits the National Fallen Firefights Foundation and Homes for Our Troops, states “we climb because they climbed.”
The Fallbrook Firefighters Association organizes the 9/11 Memorial Hill Climb. John Choi, an associate member of the Fallbrook Firefighters Association Local 1622 and a Fire Captain Paramedic with North County Fire Protection District, said the climb fosters patriotism and unity.
“The people that come to this event are patriots,” said Choi. “They believe in not being destroyed or discouraged by the things that happen to our nation. They believe in standing together. The slogan that came out of 9/11 was ‘United We Stand.’ Now more than ever – we’re such a divided nation – we need to go back to United We Stand. Whether good or bad, we need to stand together as a nation and we need to help each other.”
Choi noted how citizens across the country have rallied to help those in need in the Hurricane-ravaged areas of Texas.
“This is where Americans shine – standing up for each other,” said Choi. “We stand up for the entire nation, but we need to stand up for each other more than anything.”
The 2016 hill climb attracted 338 participants and Choi is hoping for a bigger turnout this year. The hike is three miles long and takes most people a little more than an hour to complete, according to Choi.
“I have 500 completion medals that we had made so we want at least 500 to come out,” said Choi. “Everyone can go at their own speed.”
All hikers are given an ID tag – it includes a photo and name of a first responder that died at the World Trade Center – to take with them up the hill to an elevation of 1,500 feet, which represents the height of the Twin Towers.
“When they went up the towers many of them knew that they weren’t going to come home, and they still went up,” said Choi. “We’re finishing the climb for them.”
Sixty people from law enforcement and 343 people from firefighting agencies died in the rescue effort.
“That’s 403 tags that I need carried up,” said Choi. “So last year, even though 338 (hikers) is a lot people, that meant 65 people didn’t get carried up.”
There is a $50 registration fee to participate in the climb but Choi said the fee is really a donation.
“That $50 is going to benefit Homes for Our Troops, which has built four houses here in Fallbrook for our wounded service members, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which has helped countless families of firefighters that died in the towers,” said Choi.
Choi encourages everyone – even those that don’t hike – to go to the Monserate Mountain Trail (Stewart Canyon Road, just east of I-15 in Fallbrook) for the remembrance.
“Whether you hike or not, come out and support the event,” said Choi. “It’s a really patriotic event…a powerful event.”
Choi conducts an opening ceremony that he says he keeps short because he knows people are hyped up to get on the mountain. A color guard is present and a moment of silence is held for all the victims of 9/11.
“We take time to remember the event,” said Choi. “We count the timeline, we talk about what happened on that day and the series of things that occurred. And we also talk about what we were as Americans and how we came together and how we need to remember that. We need to remember that we need to go back to being the slogan, United We Stand.”
All the state flags and military flags are put up at the event, and 16 American flags are reserved for service members to carry up to the top of the mountain.
“These American flags represent all the brave men and women who have died in service to our nation,” said Choi. “That (the flag) is the ID tag we carry for all those who gave their lives in military service.”
People attending this year’s 9/11 Memorial Hill Climb will have the chance to take an up close look at the New York Fire Department’s Rescue 5, a truck that was damaged by falling debris from the towers. The truck serves as a traveling memorial and the names of the 11 firefighters from Rescue 5 that died during the rescue efforts are written on the side of the rig.
Vendors will also be present at the 9/11 Memorial Hill Climb, including Juice Wave, a food truck that figures to be popular since it will be serving up organic smoothies. A fundraising raffle will also be conducted.
Choi said events like the 9/11 Memorial Hill Climb are important because they make a statement.
“9/11 threatened the very fabric of our freedom,” said Choi. “But when we all come together and do this kind of event and have a ceremony, it tells the world it hasn’t shaken us and as a nation we’re going to continue to be free and continue to be united.”