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12 years later, community gathers to remember 9/11

Ceremonies in Gainesville honor victims of 2001 attacks

POSTED: September 11, 2013 2:11 p.m.

Unity was a resounding theme at 9/11 memorials on Wednesday in Gainesville.

Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch, in an appeal to patriotism, spoke to the principles that bind Americans in his remarks at a 9/11 memorial breakfast at First Baptist Church.

“As we move forward, I hope we can continue to grow stronger ... based on the principles of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that unite us as Americans,” he said. “Through all, we stood together, and each new generation adds depth to our American legacy.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle co-hosted with Couch the Commendation for Public Safety Officials breakfast at First Baptist, and Gainesville officials later in the morning participated in a nationwide series of remembrances timed with when the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.

Among those lost in the attacks was Gainesville native Edna Stephens, who died in the plane crash at the Pentagon near Washington.

Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and a Times columnist, traveled to New York City in the weeks after 9/11 to assist victims, from mourning families to displaced workers.

As dawn broke in Gainesville and the sun streamed through the tall church windows, Blackwood told one of the thousands of harrowing tales that emerged from that day, saying he still ponders the lives of those forever changed.

“We all became New Yorkers that day, and ... as we move away from this, I hope we don’t forget that,” he said. Cagle, in his keynote address, said the anniversary, while tragic, is an opportunity to show appreciation for the first responders — police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians — who risk their lives every day.

“So many of you have heard me say, ‘Life is not about self, it’s about service to others,’” he said. “Thank you. ... We too often take you for granted.”

The Gainesville Police and Fire departments conducted a ceremony at the city’s Public Safety Facility, opened by words from Gainesville Mayor Bob Hamrick.

“Today, we pay our respects, and honor those who for the past 12 years have secured our homeland and continue to do so every day,” he said.

Cagle concluded all citizens should strive to the motto public servants live by, through loyalty, devotion and love.

“We overcome tragedies like that because of those qualities. ... I urge you to do more than you did yesterday. Our men and women in service do that ... for that, this day is for you,” he said.

Asked how he might urge citizens to “do more” as Cagle said, District Attorney Lee Darragh urged civic participation and responsibility.

“I think it’s important for the community to recognize the dedication and sacrifice of first responders, from law enforcement, fire personnel, medical personnel. ... They can assist them by being responsible citizens, reporting crime, serving as jurors without reluctance and support(ing) them in seeking justice,” he said.

Darragh attended both ceremonies, and said it’s an honor to work with all the agencies that coordinate with the courts.

“To work with these men and women on a daily basis is an honor for me because I recognize their character and quality, and they’re trying to protect us all,” he said.

Former Sheriff Steve Cronic, who began his term in 2001, described the challenges and changes departments have undergone in maintaining secure communities.

“It was a tremendous adjustment (after 9/11),” for the sheriff’s office, he said. “I don’t think law enforcement will ever be the same as it was before.”

Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough agreed, but said that’s also a silver lining.

“Growing up, I always heard, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ Well, 9/11 made fire services much stronger,” he said. “We never know, so we’ve got to be ready.”

Couch summarized the duty of law enforcement, and 9/11 remembrance, with a simple statement.

“Our mission to serve and protect is our ground zero,” he said. “Thank you. May we never forget.”


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