The Woodmen of the World and the Long County Chamber of Commerce hosted a ceremony Sept. 11 at the Ludowici/Long County Volunteer Fire Department to remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Former Assistant Chief of Operations Shawn Smith and Coastal Courier correspondent Lewis Levine, both of whom worked at ground zero after the attack, spoke about what the 14th anniversary of the day meant to them.
Smith said that on the day of the attack, he was attending a firefighting class at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. He said that all of the classes at the center were canceled, and the firefighters were sent back to their departments.
Smith said that two days later he, Levine and several other firefighters from Liberty and Bryan counties drove to New York. Upon their arrival, he said, the group encountered other first responders from across the country.
“Nobody had ever seen an event of this magnitude. We all had to come together and do what we could to help,” Smith said.
He said that he has great respect for all the firefighters and other emergency personnel who went back into the World Trade Center after the attacks.
“It still chokes me up just to know that so many people lost their lives over something that is so hard to comprehend. I couldn’t tell you why anybody would do what they did on Sept. 11,” Smith said.
The attack on the World Trade Center changed the way he viewed life, making him realize how important it is, he added.
“Every life has a purpose, and I think we all have a duty to all at least devote a small portion of our daily lives to ensure that neither America nor the world ever forgets the tragic events that occurred on Sept. 11,” Smith said.
Levine, who is from the Bronx, told the crowd that when he lived in New York, he went into the World Trade Center often. As a teenager, he had a job as a messenger that required him to deliver videos to the ABC television-network office at the WTC. Several years later, he said, his wife had a job on the 101st floor there.
“It was a beautiful building — or a beautiful set of buildings, I should say — and it was a city within a city,” Levine said. “The bottom floors were filled with stores, and it was filled with life.”
Levine said he had been up working late the night before 9/11. When he woke up and turned on the television, he saw all the coverage of the attacks but thought it was a movie, because he couldn’t fathom the World Trade Center actually being under an attack.
“New Yorkers, we take landmarks for granted,” he said. “We don’t really pay attention to those things. The World Trade Center was just another building, but when I went up to New York and I actually saw what remained, I couldn’t help but shed tears.”
Levine also spoke of his time now covering news in Long and Liberty counties and the respect he has for all first responders and law-enforcement personnel.
“Over the years, I have covered local firefighters and police officers. Actually, that’s my beat, and I can tell you over the years, I have gained a great amount of respect and loyalty to these folks,” he said. “Without our firefighters, our first responders and our emergency personnel, there would be chaos and, quite frankly, each and every one of us and everyone in this nation should take a moment throughout their day to thank them.”
Levine also spoke of how special these people are and how they continually risk their lives for people they don’t even know.
“There are really only two types of people that run into a disaster — the crazy reporter and the firefighters, the police officers and the first responders. These are the only two groups that run into a disaster,” he said.
Levine closed by saying the anniversary focuses on the lives lost in New York, Washington and a Pennsylvania field, but that people should never forget the men and women who still do these dangerous jobs every day for little or no money.
Also attending the program was the Long County High School band and chorus squad. Each group performed several songs in honor of local first responders. As the band played taps, members of the fire department took down their U.S. flag and raised a new one to half staff.