Even without public events, 9/11 anniversary still matters

Herald columnistSeptember 10, 2012 

— Out at the York County fire training grounds, there is a small bucket of flowers, red with a tiny American flag nestled among the flowers.

It sits underneath a piece of steel that fell and crashed hundreds of miles away, on a day 11 years ago when almost 3,000 people died.

The flowers are fresh, no more than a couple of days old. Another tiny American flag is stuck onto the steel itself.

Somebody just showed up, remembered and left.

There are four small stone benches where people can sit and look. The view on Ogden Road, south of Rock Hill, is of three black granite stones that hold up the rusting piece of steel with concrete and iron on it.

The steel beam came out of the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York.

The monument was dedicated a year ago today – 10 years after the terrorist attacks. Volunteer firefighters in York County, like hundreds of other places in America and even overseas, received a piece of the towers to incorporate into a memorial.

The York volunteers raised thousands of dollars for the granite, and many gave services for the concrete pad, the sod – the whole place – to make this memorial so powerful in its simple tribute.

“Not bad for a bunch of good ol’ country boys,” said Bob Davenport, one of the leaders of the effort to get the beam and build the monument. Davenport is a volunteer at the Bethesda Fire Department and a York County magistrate – but his real title is “American.”

One of the three granite slabs has the number 343 on it – for the 343 firefighters who died Sept. 11. The other numbers are 23 for police officers, 37 for port authority cops and 2,346 for the number of civilians who were killed.

“You just look at that monument and you think about those people who died, and what we can do is remember them,” said Leon Yard, another magistrate and assistant chief at the Oakdale Fire Department. He helped bring the beam to York County.

Some of these volunteers will gather at 7 a.m. today for a prayer service at the monument. Anyone who wants to go can show up, said Yard and Davenport, because “this is the people’s monument.”

There appear to be no other public ceremonies for anniversary number 11. Eleven is not a nice even number. More, it seems like the public embrace of such an important day has loosened.

Nobody at the Rock Hill National Guard armory – or among the 168 families of soldiers from that armory – forgets Sept. 11, 2001. The Guard’s 178th Combat Engineers from Rock Hill, 168 strong, are in the rocky wastes of Afghanistan because of those attacks 11 years ago. Some of them are on their second, third or fourth deployments.

Sept. 11, 2001, is why Paul Neff and Pat Leach, Kenneth James Butler and T.J. Dudley, all of York County, died in wars in Iraq or Afghanistan afterward.

Sept. 11, 2001 is why Logan Tinsley and Zandra Worthy-Walker of Chester County died later in those wars.

Sept. 11, 2001 is why hundreds from York, Chester and Lancaster counties have fought in the wars – and still do.

The workers at the Little Giant convenience store next to the Rock Hill armory do not forget Sept. 11.

On the wall behind the counter where the livermush biscuits are prepared is a giant banner that has hung for more than 10 years. On that “Flag of Heroes” are the names of the firefighters who died that day 11 years ago.

One of the names is Peter Vega, a firefighter from Brooklyn whose parents live not five miles from that store in Rock Hill. Vega rushed to those towers and died as the towers fell, with strangers in his arms. Vega left a daughter.

Another of the names: Mario Santoro, a paramedic whose parents live in Tega Cay. Santoro, an immigrant from Argentina, rushed to the towers from his apartment after a shift on an ambulance. He went back to help people. He died holding onto a tiny child he was trying to rush to safety. Santoro left a daughter.

Fort Lawn volunteer firefighter Richard Hulse knew three firefighters who died in the attacks from his days in New York. He also received a small piece of steel from the towers. A sculptor made a monument that now sits in front of the Town Hall after it was dedicated in May.

But Hulse, who organized Sept. 11 anniversary tribute events 10 years in a row, is not having one today because attendance has dwindled each year.

“I’ll have one on (Saturday), but the crowd hasn’t been the same as it used to be,” Hulse said. “It’s a shame. How soon some forget.”

Still, at 8:30 this morning, Hulse will lay a wreath on the forged steel sculpture. He will lay it in memory of the dead and in honor of the living. Firefighters and cops, paramedics and troops.

“I never forget,” Hulse said. “Ever.”

At Rock Hill’s Station 4 on Heckle Boulevard, at 7:30 a.m. today, firefighters coming off a 24-hour shift will put up a flag so large it covers both of the station’s front bays. It will stay up all day, in tribute.

On that shift are Frank Plate and Matt Kecken. They and seven other Rock Hill firefighters climbed the 48-story Duke Tower in Charlotte on Sept. 11 last year. Twice up and down in full gear, in honor of the dead who died trying to save others.

“I don’t forget Sept. 11.” Plate said Monday.

“Me, neither,” said Kecken.

Also today – between 8 a.m. and noon, and then again between 5 and 8 p.m., on seven bridges that span Interstate 77 in York County – flags will fly from the overpasses. The flags will be held by members of Rolling Thunder, a veterans-advocacy group.

They will wave flags in memory of all those who died 11 years ago, and for all the soldiers serving in Afghanistan or who served before.

That’s a tradition that started the day after Sept. 11, 2001, on one bridge in Fort Mill. Back then, the flag was held by a Navy combat veteran named Leonard Farrington.

Farrington, 79 in 2001, waved for hours to tell terrorists that America does not yield to terrorism or anything else. He waved until he was so tired he almost passed out.

Farrington waved his flag for three more years on the anniversary. Only the cops, citing a potential traffic nuisance, could stop him.

Last May, after 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, Farrington came out one last time.

“Take that, Bin Laden!” Farrington yelled as he waved his flag for a few minutes, until age, not terrorism, finally won. He died at 89 in February.

Rolling Thunder will wave flags today in Farrington’s memory, too.

What Farrington and so many others have done – and still do – to show love for country and to remember all those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor the troops still fighting, never dies.

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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