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County remembers 9/11 first responders

Posted: September 11, 2011 3:04 p.m.
Updated: September 12, 2011 5:00 a.m.
Keri Todd Boyce/C-I

Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham

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(See more pictures from Saturday's event in the C-I's free Community section by clicking here.)

Ten years ago Saturday, Americans were living “normal” lives, Lugoff Fire Chief Dennis Ray told the crowd gathered at Lugoff-Elgin High School Sept. 10.

LFD hosted a 9/11 Memorial event Saturday at the L-EHS football stadium to honor the fallen firefighters who died during America’s most deadly terrorist attack. Firefighters from across South Carolina were invited to attend.

“People have asked why we’re doing this program the day before Sept. 11,” Ray said. “I find it very interesting that the day before Sept. 11 10 years ago we were living what we call normal… Here we are 10 years later on the day before Sept. 11 and our complete definition of normal has changed, especially for the men and women behind me here. We do things a lot different now.”

After the ceremony all firefighters and attendees climbed 343 stadium steps to remember the 343 firefighters who gave their lives in the World Trade Center attack.

Lugoff-Elgin American Legion Post 195 played TAPS and provided a 21-gun salute before the firefighters began their climb of the 343 stairs.

To open the memorial event, the crowd heard what Ray described as the “most gruesome sound in fire services.”

The alarm sound indicates a motionless firefighter.

“First hand testimonies from those at the World Trade Center said they heard that sound over and over and over again, hundreds of times for dozens and dozens and dozens of their fire fighters,” Ray said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like, listening to that sound and being helpless.”

Ray ended the ceremony with a quote from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Asst. Chief Salvatore J. Cassano after 9/11.

“He said, ‘we are bloody, we are battered, we are brought to our knees, but we never gave up hope.’ That is the mind of a firefighter. That is the mind of a first responder. That is what we live and breathe and is what we appreciate in each other each and every day,” Ray said. 

Ray also thanked the 911 dispatchers, or “invisible heroes”, for their service to the community.

Guest speakers for the ceremony included Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk, Sen. Phil Leventis, Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews, Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham and Kershaw County Councilman Jimmy Jones.

Leventis said his son worked in one of the Twin Towers at the time of the attack.

“We felt helpless,” Leventis said when recalling his emotions as he watched the horror unfold on the news cast.

“There is one thing all those who died had in common,” he said. “It wasn’t religion, wasn’t ethnicity.... They had their dreams that morning, for themselves, for their families, for their country. All that was taken away by radicalism, extremism, we can’t forget that.”

Leventis said he was honored to have the chance to publicly thank first responders both locally and in New York for their service.

“I’m very appreciative to thank first responders for everything you do today and especially for what you and your brothers and sisters did that day at the World Trade Center to keep our son safe.”

Matthews recognized a South Carolina man for his acts of bravery after the plane crashed into the Pentagon.

Master Sgt. James “Smitty” Smith, a South Carolina National Guard member, ran towards the wreckage while others ran away, Matthews said.

“One by one, he pulled people to safety,” Matthews said. “When the flames got hotter, he took off his shirt and soaked it in the water fountain and went back in.”

Afterward, Gov. Jim Hodges gave Smitty the state’s highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto.

“While grateful, this hero said the award was bitter sweet,” Matthews said. “People who are willing to lay down their lives care more about other people than they do themselves, and Smitty said he lives with the memory of hearing other crash victims he could not reach that day. This hero wishes he could have done more.”

Matthews said more than 400 of the almost 3,000 deaths in the Sept. 11 attacks were first responders, men and women who had accepted the call of public service.

“They (gave their lives) on a day American needed them most,” he said. “Since then, more than 600 more have died from the side effects of what they encountered and inhaled that day.”

Matthews said the attack on the World Trade Center is what he hopes “will be the worst terrorist attack of my lifetime.”

Funderburk expressed that in remembering Sept. 11, Americans should remember “not only tragedy but also the courage, self sacrifice, compassion, generosity, strength and resolve” that has characterized the nation’s response to these terrible events.

“As terrible as Sept. 11, 2001, was, it would have been much worse if Americans had failed their test of character that day,” she said. “It would have been even darker if many ordinary citizens had not demonstrated the character of extraordinary heroes… 9/11 may have been a day that showed us that there is more evil in the world than we might have ever imagined, but it was also a day that showed us that there was even more courage inside of us than we might have thought.”

In closing, Sheheen said it was important for all Americans, locally and nationally, to unite.

“That day among the Twin Towers, there were not rich people or poor people. There were not black people and white people. There were no Republicans or Democrats. There were only Americans in our country that day. That’s all we were and proud to be,” he said. “Those shared goals that we’ve had for over 200 years; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that’s who we are. It’s what makes us Americans.”

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