The Union County Camp meeting held Sunday evening at Union County Stadium served as a night of appreciation for local first responders and military personnel as well as a remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives during — and as result of — the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks
“The purpose of the evening — the tenth anniversary of that fateful day Sept. 11, 2001, is first to acknowledge and express our appreciation to the first responders and military in our community and our nation for the unselfish and often heroic services they provide us,” said County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair. “The second purpose of the evening is to pause and acknowledge with commemoration the ultimate sacrifice made by so many that fateful day and the following long but successful struggle against terrorism.”
The first guest speaker to take the stage was decorated New York City paramedic/firefighter Gary Smiley, who was on duty during the 2001 attack. Smiley — a member of Battalion 31 — responded when the first of the World Trade Center towers was hit, and he assisted in setting up a triage area nearby. Smiley recounted being blown down the street from the building’s implosion and getting stuck under an ambulance.
“I thought I had just gotten myself killed,” he said.
Smiley was 50 feet from the north tower when it was hit, and he said he was one of only three survivors from that area. He also mentioned several of his friends who also responded to the attack. He told the story of Jimmy Coil, a firefighter whose body was never found; Joe Henry, an EMS worker who was trapped under a truck and found six months later; and his friend Kevin, a second-generation firefighter who was last seen in the north tower of the World Trade Center.
“Those people ran into a living nightmare without regard for their safety,” he said. “They were just doing their job.”
Smiley asked those in attendance to never forget the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives during the attacks and those who have fallen ill and passed away due to aftereffects.
After Smiley spoke about the Ground Zero response to the 2001 attacks, Al Black spoke about the Pentagon response. Black — who currently works with the Union County Sheriff’s Office — had an office in the Pentagon at the time.
“My story is not one of heroic action, but divine preservation,” Black said.
Black — a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel — was working as a civilian contractor in the Air Force information systems during the attack. Three years before the attack, however, Black and thousands of other employees were moved from their regular offices due to renovations. He admitted to complaining about the move because of inconveniences added during his workday. He said he now believes God moved him and others out of those offices for a reason.
David Becknell — a local first responder volunteer — also commented from a local and personal perspective. At last year’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony, Becknell’s mother was saved by quick reaction from first responders in the stands. Becknell personally thanked first responders who were in attendance.
Congressman Trey Gowdy also spoke and presented an American flag that flew over Ground Zero.
“Celebrate the fact that there are people who are willing to put on the cloak of courage and go out and do things normal humans aren’t willing to do,” Gowdy said.
The flag presented will be hung for display in the Union County Courthouse.
Following the guest speakers, Sinclair commented about the terrorist attacks from 10 years ago.
“They altered American lives, but did not alter America,” Sinclair said. “Terrorists did not alter who we are, what we do or the way of life we protect.”
He further explained what he meant just before turning the program over to the Rev. Michael Wingertsahn to introduce special music.
“In this country, I can — and do — turn this program back over to Rev. Wingertsahn and exercise one of the greatest freedoms we have, the freedom of religion,” Sinclair said.
Musicians included U.S. Coast Guard pipe major Mike Loudermilk playing “Amazing Grace” on the bag pipe, which was followed by the playing of “Taps” on trumpet by Ronnie Lybrand. Other music was provided by The Good News Trio, Dr. Harold Wood, Choruses of Praise (led by Dr. Lawton Neely) and the Childers. Others who spoke included the Rev. Brad Goodale, the Rev. David Blanton and the Rev. Randy Smith.