Nobody made Makai Byrd go visit all six Rock Hill fire stations on Tuesday.
The 8-year-old went on the urging of his mother, sure, and she did the driving, but he wanted to go see these places himself after school.
His father was not around to go.
“My dad is in Afghanistan,” said Makai. “He’s in the Army. That’s his job.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, Eddie Byrd was in a place that time forgot, except the time that started with Sept. 11, 2001.
Eddie has been deployed to Iraq, twice, in the past decade. He was on a plane trying to get home eight years ago when Makai was born. Eddie did not make it in time.
People on the plane drank a toast to the soldier in uniform, cheered the birth. Eddie missed the birth of his son by two hours.
Capt. Eddie Byrd grew up in McConnells in western York County. He has been in the military for more than 20 years.
Eddie was a kid in the country, a star student who ran track and played football at York Comprehensive High School in the 1980s.
He first served in the Marines and now trains Army soldiers. His job is to make sure teenaged grunts – too young to drink or shave, who go to Afghanistan with eyes wide with courage and fright – come home with both arms and both legs.
Eddie Byrd, like all soldiers, is in Afghanistan because of Sept. 11, 2001. He has missed so much of two daughters’ lives, and Makai’s life, so that other men’s sons do not die. His job is that simple.
It might be one of the most important jobs on earth.
So even though Makai could have been playing games and watching videos and running around as boys do, he went with his mother to see those firefighters on Tuesday – the day that is the reason that he and thousands of little kids have had fathers away at wars, missing so much of their young lives.
“We just thought it would be a good way to show patriotism,” said Ellen Wilder-Byrd, who works at Winthrop University, but whose real occupation is mother. She talked about the first responders, the firefighters, on Monday with her son because she knew that Tuesday was not just some other day.
This mother remembered soldiers and firefighters and wanted her son to do the same.
The two headed to the Heckle Boulevard fire station where a giant American flag was hung. Then two more stations, and on to the York County Fire Training grounds south of Rock Hill, where a piece of the beam from the World Trade Center towers is on display.
Makai looked at the beam and saw the black granite that shows 343 firefighters died trying to save other people after the attacks by terrorists.
The car then sped to the other three city stations. Makai met 24 firefighters who worked on Tuesday – 11 years to the day after so many firefighters died. He told them about his father, who was working on Sept. 11, too.
The firefighters gave Makai a few gifts, let him climb on the trucks, and made him one of the guys. At all six stations, the firefighters on shift gathered and thanked Makai.
“They were great,” Makai said. “I told them that.”
The firefighters who worked Tuesday started their day at 8 a.m. The guys at the Automall Parkway station – back on shift Friday as firefighters work 24 hours on, 48 hours off – talked about what a great kid Makai was.
They talked about how he was the only person to come by on Sept. 11, the day we’re supposed to remember all those firefighters who died in New York.
This is the same shift that rescued rafters on the Catawba River Aug. 15, then went back to work for another 16 hours.
Out at the Airport station, Makai was met by Capt. Charlie Sizemore. He showed Makai around, showed him the trucks, introduced him to all the firefighters.
Makai thanked Charlie Sizemore and everybody for what they do to protect people.
“What a kid,” Sizemore said on Friday. “He didn’t have to do that.”
Makai, so shy, didn’t even tell these firefighters that his father was in Afghanistan, and had been gone to wars most of his life. Makai didn’t tell them that one of the reasons he went to the fire stations was for his father and all those soldiers.
“That makes what he did mean even more,” Sizemore said.
At Makai’s school, Richmond Drive Elementary, Principal Pat Maness urges kids to make a difference in their community. Kids who do get T-shirts and are recognized by the school.
Makai sure is going to get a T-shirt.
In a few months Eddie Byrd will come back from Afghanistan. He will see his son, who will then tell him about Sept. 11.
Then the two guys named Byrd will share a hug about a day they both did their best for other people.