The old pickup truck with the emergency lights on top that Richard Hulse drives to the Fort Lawn fire station in rural Chester County has a "9-11 Never Forget" sticker on the back window. His hat says "FDNY."
This former volunteer fire chief from a small town in Long Island, who stands about 5 feet, 3 inches tall, retired to Fort Lawn in late 2000. A year later, three guys he knew from the firefighting fraternity were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. It is for those guys that the 68-year-old Hulse holds service at the Fort Lawn Community Center each Sept. 11.
"Raymond Meisenheimer, Peter Martin and Thomas R. Kelly," said Hulse, naming the three firefighters he knew from training together over the years. "Good guys. Generous. When you know somebody who died there, and you are a firefighter yourself, it gets personal."
The tributes started at his church, Fort Lawn United Methodist, in 2002. By 2004, Hulse's tribute was in the community center. The audience has grown each year. They hear poems that honor firefighters and cops and emergency medical services workers who died in the terrorist attacks. Last year, more than 120 people attended.
Hulse's wife of 47 years, Cherie, reads the firefighter's wife's poem. Then Hulse speaks a little bit from his heart, cries some, and asks the people who attend to not forget those who died.
There are no political speeches, no religious harangues. Just tributes.
"I always thought the best way to honor people is to gather in your community and let everybody know that communities don't give up," said Hulse. "I just want people to remember what happened. Nothing slick. Just remembering."
Hulse spent 32 years with the Greenport, N.Y., volunteers - a place of just 4,000 people on the eastern tip of Long Island. Despite its small size, Greenport has a volunteer fire department of more than 140 people. Fort Lawn, with a few hundred residents, has a volunteer fire department of 18. Hulse, a grandfather many times over, a great-grandfather, even, is a lieutenant and safety officer for the Fort Lawn volunteers.
"When you are a firefighter you just don't walk away - I thought I could after I retired and came here," Hulse said.
But this guy who used to run the snowplow in Greenport can't walk away from volunteering or having his 9/11 tribute.
"I married a fireman, and his tribute every year in Fort Lawn comes from his heart, and he falls apart a little bit when he speaks about it," said Cherie Hulse. "But it is important to him and our little town."
The mayor of Fort Lawn, Cliff Ferguson, said Hulse's actions are a "worthwhile tribute that we can all be a part of."
The sign in front of the Fort Lawn Community Center is already up. It is a sign with wagon wheels on each end, a rural sign if there ever was one. It says 9/11 memorial Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Hulse is proud of that sign.
"We have a bagpiper, and the fire departments and police and the EMS people come in, and we thank them," Hulse said. "Maybe half an hour. Not big. No political speeches. Just right for Meisenheimer, and Martin, and Kelly. And all the rest."
Even in rural Chester County, hundreds of miles from New York, Richard Hulse shows that 9/11 is still personal.
Sept. 11 events
The Fort Lawn remembrance service is 7:30 p.m. at the Fort Lawn Community Center, 5554 Main St. The center is just south of S.C. 9, west of U.S. 21 in Fort Lawn, Chester County. The public is invited.
Men's Auxiliary of VFW Post 2889, 732 W. Main St., Rock Hill, is hosting a "We Remember" fish fry fundraiser Saturday for area veterans, Hospice and Community Care, and the American Red Cross, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fish plates are $8, delivery available for orders of 6 or more. Wheel barrel of spirits $1 donation, four bands playing at the post starting at 3 p.m. until midnight.
Memorial service, noon, Abiezer Baptist Church, 270 S. Herlong Ave., Rock Hill to honor the victims of 9/11; sponsored by the Rock Hill Ministerial Association.
Share your event with us
Have a Sept. 11 event planned? Contact Andrew Dys at 803-329-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.