Hundreds of first responders remember 9/11
An estimated 300 first responders and others gathered Wednesday at the American Legion in Durham to remember 9/11 and those who died in terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
Among those at the spaghetti lunch was Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews, whose brother-in-law was in the center’s South Tower when the plane smashed into it on Sept. 11, 2001.
He escaped unhurt, but his family didn’t know if he was alive for 12 torturous hours.
Andrews said he was working for Dean Whitter investment bankers on the 86th floor when the attack happened.
Family members lost phone contact with him, and he ended up riding a ferry to the Statue of Liberty, then renting a truck to get home.
Even after 12 hours, Andrews said, his brother-in-law looked like “a plaster man” covered in dust.
“He lost about 20 friends – co-workers – that day who didn’t make it out,” Andrews said.
“We were also worried about whether anything was going to happen in this region,” said Andrews, who was a sheriff’s major in charge of operations.
“We were trying to focus that day on providing security around Durham,” he said. “I’m thankful to law enforcement, firefighters, EMS and their families who support us every day in the job we do.”
The attacks killed 341 firefighters, and those deaths were on the mind of Battalion Chief David Griffith of the Durham Fire Department.
“My thoughts are with the families of people who were related to all the heroes who died that day, and also to the families of people who served and still serve in our armed forces,” Griffith said. “I think every time 9/11 rolls around, or whenever something terrible happens like the Boston bombing, there are a lot of people identified as heroes. The term ‘hero’ is used pretty loosely sometimes, but the real heroes are the ones who paid the ultimate price.”
Wayne Watson, a retired Durham police officer, was sitting on the beach surf fishing on his day off when he got word of the attacks.
Watson, who in 2001 was working for the U.S. Marshals Service, returned to Durham immediately in case he was called in to work.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Watson said. “I just thought it was some accident. But when I heard about the second plane attack, I knew it was for real.”
Watson said 9/11 changed the United States forever.
“We’ve been safe in this country since the country’s been here,” he said. “But we’ll never be safe again. We have to look over our shoulder from now on, and that’s sad.”
The American Legion Post 7 on East Trinity Avenue sponsored the lunch, which was organized by Cathy Lipsey of the legion’s Ladies Auxiliary.
“We felt that we needed to do something for those who serve us every day and put their lives on the line,” Lipsey said. “It’s been 12 years since the attacks, and I don’t want it to die. I want to keep that alive, because so many people lost their lives. Our fellow brethren who are around now – it hurts them every day to remember how many were lost.”