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Posted: Monday, September 12th 2011 at 5:55am

Sept. 11 'a time for reflection and remembering'

By Rob Moore
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MOUNT AIRY - More than 1,500 people turned out in Mt. Airy Sunday night to observe the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

“Lest We Forget: An Evening of Remembrance and Celebration” was sponsored by Habersham Central High School and Bethlehem Baptist Church of Clarkesville and was held in the gym of the new high school.

Before the ceremony began, those attending watched as helicopters from the Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia Army National Guard landed in the parking lot near fire trucks, an ambulance, military vehicles and other public safety equipment. Children and adults were able to look inside the vehicles and aircraft.

Derek Shaw of Clarkesville sat in the crew area of the Blackhawk helicopter with his children, Ellie, Britton and Tate while his wife took a family photo.

Meanwhile, 6-year-old Micah Kelly of Habersham County tried on a crew helmet on the opposite side of the aircraft.

As several hundred people clamored to get a closer look at the military helicopter, Coach Joseph York renewed his friendships with former Habersham Central football player and Air Force Jr. ROTC member Clay Hardy and athletic trainer Lindsey Worley beside the aircraft.

“It’s a time for reflection and remembering,” said 50th District Sen. Jim Butterworth, newly-appointed adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard. “It’s made us a better people and a better country certainly.”

Butterworth described how he felt following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“It made me feel vulnerable,” Butterworth said. “I had actually just gotten out of the military and was still qualified on the B-1. I actually called my old squadron commander back. He was one of the first phone calls I made that morning. I said, ‘If you’ll take me back, I’m ready to sign up right now.’ Fortunately and -- depending on your perspective -- unfortunately, that unit never got activated so I never went back in the way that I had kind of hoped. I’d say vulnerable, yet motivated.”

Butterworth said that though Habersham County’s experience with the military has been limited because there is no base or unit there, events such as Sunday’s allows the county’s residents to be exposed to U.S. Armed Forces.

“I think this exemplifies that folks are interested in our country, they’re interested in the military and they’re supportive of those things,” Butterworth said. “I think it’s great to see this turnout for sure.”

Once the ceremony began, retired Gen. Joe Breedlove led those gathered in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“As many of you know, some of the national media have gotten in the habit of leaving out some of the most precious words in our Pledge,” Breedlove said. “We’re not going to leave out those words tonight.”

Then Col. Victor Correa, who worked in the Pentagon at the time of the terrorist attack, described for those attending the moments of chaos there following the impact of the jetliner.

“I will cleanse it somewhat because of the audience,” Correa said, recalling, “Ten years ago, Sept. 11 was just a normal day.”

After arriving for work and preparing for their day, Correa and others went into an office to view the events in New York on television.

“There we saw what was happening in New York,” Correa said. “Once we saw the second aircraft, we knew there was a force behind it.”

A co-worker told Correa, “Sir, you know this could happen here. We would not be expecting it.”

“He had not finished saying those words when we were hit,” Correa said. “Bam! A gust of wind, a ball of fire coming toward you.”

“I see that ball of fire coming, I see the ceiling tiles waving because of that gust of wind that’s before the ball of fire,” Correa said.

Correa said people have asked him why he stayed to help others in the damaged Pentagon building, where a jet carrying 30,000 gallons of fuel had struck.

“You’re OK,” he said he told himself. “Now it’s time for you to do something to help others.”

He then described the thick black smoke that filled the facility, finding co-workers with severe burns and the challenges of getting those burn victims out of a blinding environment when it was not possible to physically hold them to guide their steps.

“If you can hear me, come toward the sound of my voice,” Correa recalls calling out. “I know a way out. I can get you out.”

“I could hear people screaming, I could hear people crying, I could help people calling ‘Help! Help!’” Correa said.

Correa said he stayed to help, “not because of my superhuman strength, but because of my faith in God and my military training.”

Correa praised the U.S. Armed Services, Reserve and National Guard, but also shared words of praise for public safety personnel.

“We should also remember our law enforcement officers, we should also remember our firefighters, we should always remember our EMS,” Correa said. “Let’s not wait until we have an emergency to thank ‘em. Let’s thank ‘em every opportunity we have because remember this: When we’re running for safety, they’re running into danger.”

Rep. Rick Austin of Demorest, in preparing to introduce Congressman Paul Broun, showed the audience two artifacts he and his family picked up from Ground Zero in New York on a visit after 9/11. One was a piece of the Twin Towers, and the other a work glove.

“The history books will tell you that there were 2,977 victims of 9/11, but the history books are wrong,” Broun told those in attendance. “We are all victims.”

“Let us not forget or be deceived by the soft language … when they refer to 9/11 as a tragic event,” Broun said. “No, let’s call it what it was: Deliberate terrorism and an act of war committed by evil religious zealots who hate America, hate our freedom, hate our God and hate our way of life.”

Gov. Nathan Deal referred to the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese aircraft, proclaimed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a day that will live in infamy.”

“Almost 60 years later and exactly 10 years ago today, another day was recorded in humanity’s annals of infamy: Sept. 11, 2001,” Deal said. “Today as we reflect on the events of the past decade, the sleeping giant that was awakened by the bombs at Pearl Harbor was likewise aroused from its nap by the hijacked airplanes that struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.”

“We know that the first day of infamy produced what has likely been referred to as the greatest generation of Americans, who overcame the powers of evil and established our pre-eminence as a world leader and, in fact, the protector of freedom,” Deal said.

“What will the second day of infamy leave as its mark on the soul of America?” Deal said. “Hopefully it will restore our belief in the cause of the righteousness of freedom. All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing, but America did something. We secured our homeland and today we honor those who continue to secure our homeland.”

Before a concert by the 313th Army Band from Birmingham, Ala., Dr. Bill Cashion, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church honored former prisoner of war Col. Benjamin H. Purcell of Clarkesville and his wife Anne.

While in the U.S. Army, Ben Purcell escaped from an enemy prisoner of war camp twice. He was the highest-ranking military officer held during the Vietnam conflict and spent more than five years in captivity. Anne Purcell was active with the National League of Families.

Following the ceremony, Broun added, “One of the basic values of America is to come together in time of adversity. That’s what Sept. 11 is all about. We still have enemies that want to destroy us as a nation. We must never forget that liberty is too precious not to be ever vigilant in protecting it -- and Americans are going to do that. That’s what this is all about today is remember those who died 10 years ago, but also to continue to enforce that resolve that we will not be put down, we will not be defeated. We’re going to stand strong for liberty and will for all of eternity until the Lord Jesus Christ comes back.”
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