First responders, vets honor comrades who fell on 9/11
By Jon Hawley
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Local first responders and veterans gathered in Elizabeth City on Tuesday for the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, marking a day of horror but also heroism.
The attacks are “seared into our memories,” said Preston Pitchford, guest speaker for the Patriot Day Celebration held at Twiford Funeral Homes Sam A. Twiford Veteran’s Park. Police, firefighters, military service members and veterans gathered for the event, where they offered short remarks and laid wreaths in the park to honor those in uniform who died in the attacks.
Like others, Pitchford recalled terrible shock when he first saw the attacks. He was a high school instructor then, and watched on television as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Nineteen hijackers caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 that day, when they crashed planes into the World Trade Center, causing its twin towers to collapse, and crashed a plane into the Pentagon. Passengers overpowered hijackers in a fourth plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.
“I stood there in disbelief,” Pitchford said. He recalled thinking, “Maybe this is a hoax, something like 'The War of the Worlds' back in 1938 — a terrible, terrible joke.” Pitchford was referring to Orson Welles’ infamous radio adaptation of an H.G. Wells novel in the 1930s that caused panic because of its realism.
Pitchford called upon all Americans to remember the first responders who sacrificed on Sept. 11, including the nearly 500 firefighters, police and military personnel who died.
Pitchford also explained that remembrance matters more every year, as more Americans didn't experience the attack.
“Approximately 25 percent of our nation was not alive during that day,” Pitchford said. “We need to be teachers in this and let them (younger generations) understand the importance.”
Most of those gathered Tuesday remembered the attacks quite well, however.
Elizabeth City police Chief Eddie Buffaloe Jr. remembered he was at his son's school when he heard about the attack — including on the Pentagon, where his brother, Deon, worked. Fortunately, Deon was out for a dentist appointment, he said.
Did that appointment save his life? “Absolutely,” Buffaloe said, later laying a wreath to recognize 72 law enforcement deaths on 9/11.
Elizabeth City fire Chief Corey Mercer laid a wreath for the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11. Like Pitchford, Mercer disbelieved the attacks at first. He saw the coverage of the attacks as he was finishing a shift. He thought it was a movie at first, he said.
Looking back on those “who sacrificed their lives for freedom,” Mercer said “it makes you feel humble.”
As the attack becomes distant history, Mercer also said, “it's events like this that are important to help people remember.”
U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Warren Judge laid a wreath for the 55 military members lost on 9/11. He asked attendees to remember how they felt on 9/11, and to honor those who face danger for others' sake.
“The men and women of the armed forces … live by this motto: you have to go, but you do not have to come back,” he said.
In comments before the ceremony, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060 Cmdr. Ken Sandridge recalled he was still in the Navy when 9/11 happened. He was on a readiness exercise aboard the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and news of the attack seemed just like part of the exercise, he said. The attack didn't sink in until days later, when he saw it in newspapers.
Sandridge also remembered the attack as a rare and powerful moment of unity for Americans.
“We all came together,” he said.
From a veteran's point of view, Sandridge also said the attacks gave service members a new enemy to focus on. While he agreed with U.S. military action in Afghanistan — a conflict that continues today — he noted it's continued to take a toll on veterans. That includes his wife, who brought back “horrible memories” from serving there, he said.
Sandridge also thanked David Twiford for organizing Tuesday's event, commenting “he goes the extra mile” for veterans.