The first, held in Anniston, honored firefighters, police officers and paramedics. The second, held in Jacksonville, was held in memory of the almost 3,000 people who died that day, including former Jacksonville resident Maj. Dwayne Williams.
“The day and the days that followed were so chaotic and confusing there wasn’t much time to think,” said Lt. Col. David Schmitt, commander of the Anniston Munitions Center. “Now 12 years on you get to look back in hindsight and think about all the lessons learned that day.”
Schmitt was the keynote speaker at the Jacksonville event honoring Williams, who died in the Pentagon. Twelve years ago Schmitt had the job of notifying people who lost family members during the attack.
About two hours before Schmitt approached the lectern in Jacksonville, about 200 people gathered between the granite memorials at Anniston’s Centennial Memorial Park at 9 a.m. to honor first responders.
Aniston's firefighters stood at attention in uniform as a minister offered a prayer and the Anniston High School Band played the national anthem. Members of the community stopped to pay their respects to the victims and all the firefighters and police officers who risked their lives to save others during the attacks.
“I care about America and where we are headed,” said attendee Mary Glass, speaking as she held a small American flag. She said the attacks were “a turning point for America and I don’t want us to forget.”
Representatives of the Anniston Police Department, Fire Department and Anniston EMS spoke to the crowd during the ceremony. Each branch of first responders was honored individually at the event.
“Twelve years ago over 400 responders went to work as usual,” said Caleb Dulaney, a field supervisor for Anniston EMS. “A job where they simply answer the call to all of these things we never thought may happen, and today we stand here to memorialize their willingness to simply do their job.”
Wednesday’s memorial was the first organized by the Calhoun County Board of Realtors. Ceremonies in previous years have been hosted by Anniston’s firefighters at their station by the park.
A group of real estate agents dressed in red, white and blue sat together in folding chairs throughout the ceremony.
“We have a love for our country and we think that’s a very important cause and we just don’t want it to fall on the wayside and be forgotten,” said Larry Jones, president of the Board of Realtors.
While the Anniston ceremony was coming to an end organizers in Jacksonville were preparing to host the ceremony there, at the Jacksonville City Cemetery. American flags flew around the benches at a stone memorial honoring Williams as people bowed their heads for prayer. Speakers remembered the victims, a trumpeter played taps, and Williams’ mother, Pearl Williams, laid a wreath at the memorial to her son.
“I relive the same emotion that I had that day,” Williams said, speaking to a crowd of TV reporters. “Even hearing taps play brings back that memory today.”
In Heflin, about two dozen people attended a commemoration at the American Legion War Memorial.
The service honored the the victims and the 343 firefighters and 60 police officers who died that day as they tried to save people trapped in the rubble of the buildings and hijacked airplanes. Mayor Rudy Rooks also told those gathered to remember how it changed our nation.
Clint Cochran, a volunteer firefighter for Heflin, said Sept. 11, 2001, changed the course of his life. He was a teenager as he watched news footage of the attacks in his high school history class. That was when he decided to become a firefighter.
“That day, I guess God placed it in my heart what I was going to do,” Cochran said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way than to serve how I serve.”
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.