BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Millions of Americans put up flags, volunteer and give back to their communities each year on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead 18 years ago.

For one Maryland man, remembering that day brings with it the pain of losing a loved one and knowing he could have been among the victims.

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John Wesley works in the city of Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights. It was his work with the city that kept him off American Airlines Flight 77 on the morning of September 11, 2001.

His fiancee, Sara Clark, a schoolteacher, was aboard the plane chaperoning a trip to California. She and the others on that flight never made it to their final destination; instead, a group of terrorists crashed it into the Pentagon.

Every year since, Wesley has trekked to the site where Clark and her fellow passengers lost their lives.

“It’s always a very sobering experience,” he said.

He misses her most at church.

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“One of the last things that we did on the Sunday before 9/11 was that we served communion together and I had never served communion before and she said to me, ‘Just follow me and watch what I do.’ So, I think about that,” he said.

While he’s conditioned to the images of that fateful day, the anniversaries are tough.

“Standing next to it and remembering that giant hole, uh– it’s surreal,” Wesley said.

Wesley has since found new love, which he said has helped him emotionally. The grief, though, never quite leaves.

“You think you’re healed. You think you’re doing fine, but there are still moments when you go through your home if you see something that’s where the person left it,” he said.

Life and work go on, though, in part to honor Clark’s memory.

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“I just give thanks for the things I was able to do to honor her in life and the things I have been able to do after 9/11 to continue to honor her,” Wesley said.

Paul Gessler