Amped Coffee Co. Celebrates Sacrifice and Compassionate Spirit of 9/11 with Light Tribute


Patriotic tunes, emotional testimonials and two beams of light filled the air over the north Phoenix suburbs Friday night, as a local coffee shop honored the 2,977 people who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The late evening lights and sounds, hardly par for the course in the small town of Anthem, Arizona, were all a part of Amped Coffee Company’s first ever “Never Forgotten 9/11 Tribute” event.

A major community meeting place and proud supporter of local law enforcement since its June 2018 opening, Amped first began planning the event in August, shortly after the National September 11 Memorial & Museum announced the cancellation of its Tribute in Light due to coronavirus-related health concerns.

The annual event, in which two haunting stand-ins for both of the World Trade Center’s twin towers are projected into the night sky from Ground Zero in Manhattan, was eventually reinstated with the help of New York state health officials.

With the ball already rolling in Anthem, however, nothing was going to stop Amped from hosting its own tribute.

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“Never Forget”

Company owners Keith and Jeanine Walashek told The Western Journal even the thought that New York City would consider canceling the Tribute in Light was a “punch in the gut.”

Have you taken the pledge to "never forget" what happened on Sept. 11, 2001?

Watching the devastating impacts of the tragedy in 2001, the Walasheks had taken a widely spoken American pledge to “never forget” what happened on Sept. 11.

“It was a horrific day,” Keith said. “It’s important that we, in detail, explain that to our children.”

“These people are going to forget out here if we don’t remember every time, because that’s the way we stop things from happening, is be vigilant,” Jeanine later added. “Our hearts were broken when they weren’t going to do the light tribute. It really was.”

“So, we were like, ‘No, you’re not you’re not going to do that to us. We’re going take a stand here in little old Anthem, with our one little coffee shop,” she said. 

The resulting event would go on to cordon off a small strip mall parking lot, making way for several hundred local residents to lay out their camping chairs in the shadow of a fire engine-hoisted American flag and honor their fallen countrymen.

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It was not initially supposed to be so large, however.

According to Keith, the plan was to “rent some lights” and “keep it simple.” But the Anthem community had other plans, with locals offering musical and dance performances, a stage and no shortage of open ears. 

“People just heard who we were teaming up with and what we were doing, and they just wanted to be part of it,” Keith said.

To Whom It Helps

Proceeds and fundraising efforts from Amped’s “Never Forgotten 9/11 Tribute” event will go to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

A New York City firefighter, Siller was leaving work after his shift on Sept. 11 when he was informed by police scanner that the North Tower of the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. Siller promptly called his wife to cancel the day’s plans and headed toward Manhattan to administer aid.

Impeded, however, by Brooklyn Battery Tunnel closures for public safety, the firefighter donned his 60 pounds of protective equipment and ran through the tunnel to Ground Zero, where he gave his life saving others.

The hero firefighter’s honorary foundation, created by brother Frank in December 2001, now works to serve the nation’s first responders, veterans and their families, putting an astounding 93 cents on every donated dollar toward housing and empowerment projects, according to the organization’s website.

Event volunteer coordinators John and Stella Herold from the local Tunnel to Tower Foundation chapter in Tempe, Arizona, were a major part of Friday’s tribute, providing an emotional perspective on Sept. 11 in a shared emcee role.

Having come of age in New York City, the Herold family lost friends and family alike when the twin towers fell on Sept. 11.

John’s older brother, Gary, worked as an Aon insurance supervisor in the South Tower at the time of the tragic attacks and tried calling his own wife twice on the morning of to notify her about the evacuations.

What the family did not know was that Gary intended to stay behind with coworker Eric Eisenberg to help clear the 98th floor, where he is believed to have died during or after the second airplane’s impact.

John also lost friends Jeffrey Nussbaum, who worked for Carr Futures in the North Tower, and Kenneth Marino, who served in New York City Fire Department’s Rescue Company 1.

Before the Herolds had every been informed of their losses, however, they told The Western Journal they had looked on as the events were first broadcast, wanting to “climb through the TV and get there and do something” to help. 

They were finally afforded the opportunity to do so some time later, when they began volunteering with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation in an experience that would go on to shape their family motto: “To grieve is a tribute, to remember is a blessing and to overcome and help others is a victory in the eyes of those we have lost.” 

Friday’s Amped tribute was part of that, John Herold told the audience, saying: “Tonight, here in Anthem, this is a victory.”

“Twenty-nine hundred seventy-seven people are looking down, today, going: ‘Anthem, Arizona? What are these people, crazy? It’s sad what happened, but this is fantastic. I can’t believe, all over the country, people remember. People honor us. People respect what happened,’” he had told The Western Journal before the event started.

“It’s just — it’s a beautiful sentiment to see this stuff going on.”

Proceeding Into Prayer

The event included a series of impassioned remarks from not only the Herolds, but Daisy Mountain Fire Department Chief Brian Tobin, Phoenix Police Department Lt. Brian Rimsza, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Laketta Gunn-Roman and Ground Zero rescue workers like Basil Fernimos and New York City police veteran Tom Ford.

It was also punctuated with the performance of “Amazing Grace” and “Taps” to honor fallen before the community was called on to join hands in prayer for the nation, as well as all the first responders present.

“Bring your peace to the people of the world,” local pastor Bob Lehman prayed over the gathering. “Oh gracious God, our world changed with those 9/11 attacks.” 

“We’ve seen how easily buildings can fall and how quickly lives can end. And as we remember 9/11, may it remind us that you are our only true security,” he continued.

“Give us your strength to face the memory of this attack and the changes it’s made in our lives. Give us your compassion to help each other and recognize need around the world. Give us your hope as we face an uncertain future and give us your peace.” 

In the moments that followed, attendees remained arm-in-arm for a moment in silent prayer.

The Spirit of 9/11: “Compassion”

Local rock band Wild Giants closed out the evening shortly after with a stage performance, including in their set Jimi Hendrix’s famous Woodstock rendition of the national anthem, which gave way to two searchlights being lit skyward in a nod to the twin towers.

According to Keith Walashek, this was one of many moments of intentional contrast scheduled into the tone of the evening.

“It is going to start out a little somber,” Walashek told The Western Journal in the hours leading up to the tribute. “But it’s going to build up into a celebration of life, like 9/11 did. It built up. We got attacked, it was somber, but then we gathered together and the resolve of this country was unreal.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do: recreate that,” he added.

Similarly, the Herold family expressed hope the night would be seen as an opportunity to celebrate the “spirit of 9/11.”

That spirit, John Herold told The Western Journal, is not a spirit of mourning or despair, however, but one of “human compassion.”

“People, when think of 9/11, they think of all the tragedy and this and that,” Herold said. “When I think of 9/11, I think of all the people helping each other. I think of my brother. I think of people [whose] stories you’ll never know.”

When “9/11 happened, everybody went running to help. That happens every day. We just don’t know it. We don’t tap into it. We don’t think that we have the ability to save somebody, to make an impact,” he later added.

“All those compassionate words that happened on 9/11, we don’t know all the stories, but they happened. They happened — and that’s why it’s so important to honor and never, never forget. Never let that go away.”

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