At the Kenai Fire Department on Saturday, 343 miniature American flags stood in rows on the lawn as a remembrance to the firefighters that died during 9/11.
"It's something that we like to remember," said Tony Prior, battalion chief at the Kenai Fire Department. "It takes a different person to be a firefighter and rush into a situation to save people."
That morning, a small group of local firefighters, their families, and residents gathered for a bell ceremony to honor those that had fallen in the line of duty.
In the bell ceremony, the same tradition they do in New York City on 9/11, Prior said, a bell is rung in four sets of five rings.
"We definitely don't want this tradition to die," he said.
Misty Hamilton, of Kenai, said she attended the ceremony to support her firefighter husband, who also has military ties.
She said she brought their four young children to the event because she thinks it's important for them to know what happened.
"Even though we didn't know anybody we still felt the hurt," she said.
And her 12-year-old daughter, Emily, definitely felt it.
"It kind of hit me hard this morning looking at photos and realizing that in God's eyes I lost 343 brothers and sisters," she said while wiping away tears from her freckled cheeks.
After the ceremony, the Untied Methodist Church of the New Covenant sponsored a brunch for the attendees.
"We lost a great deal on that day and it helps us always to remember to be vigilant and support each other in good times and times of crisis," said Kari Mohn, a church member who helped prepare the food. "This is our way of saying thanks."
In Nikiski, the dedication of the new fire station was especially poignant given the anniversary.
Across the nation, communities held similar ceremonies and events to remember the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
Across town, dozens of residents gathered at the Soldotna Church of God for a two-mile "freedom walk" along the Sterling Highway.
Rebeka Heames, of Sterling, helped to organize the event as part of many walks taking place across the nation Saturday for Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to military families.
"We need to remember our freedoms that other countries don't have," she said.
Josie Juskewicz and Lindsay Starkweather were also involved in organizing the freedom walk.
Juskewicz said the three women were inspired to start an annual event to commemorate 9/11 in the community after learning about Operation Homefront through their work with AdvoCare, a Mary Kay like company that sells nutritional goods.
She said the community response and support of the first freedom walk in Soldotna was overwhelming.
"We talked to people that have military families and it was instant tears. They were so happy somebody was doing something in our community," she said.
In downtown Soldotna, cars honked at the freedom walkers in their uniform white T-shirts walking dogs and carrying babies down the street.
Jaime Maly said she came to the walk because she think it's important to not only remember the lives lost, but the freedom on which the United States was built. As a supporter of the tea party, she said 9/11 is especially important this year because of the upcoming elections.
"This is an important time for our country," Maly said. "We're at a crossroads."
For Sonja Moore, who was carrying her young son on her belly, the walk was something patriotic and important for her to participate in--even if she was tired in the morning.
"I thought, 'This is the least I can do,'" she said.
The Operation Homefront freedom walk is the first of its kind in the state of Alaska, Starkweather said.
The women hope that next year on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 they can have a freedom festival -- a bigger event to reflect on and commemorate the day.
As the years pass and the nation gets further away from the tragedy, Starkweather said, "It's nice to have something to bring you back to what happened."
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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