Cherokee County did its part Wednesday to honor the thousands of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 100 residents and officials gathered in downtown Canton at 8:30 a.m. for the county’s Patriot Day ceremony in observance of the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Maj. General James Butterworth, head of the Georgia National Guard, served as the keynote speaker for the ceremony and remarked on the importance of keeping in mind that the sudden attacks that day were “an assault on our beliefs and our freedoms.”
“Today, we mark the 12th anniversary — as you are all well aware — of the vicious attacks that shocked this great country,” Butterworth said. “Sept. 11 reminded us of the ever changing aspects of warfare. We never imagined it could happen.”
Cherokee County Commissioner Harry Johnston also remarked on the shock of Sept. 11, calling it “the worst ever terrorist attack on this country.”
Johnston led a moment of silence for the many in attendance Wednesday morning, asking them to pause and reflect on the residents and emergency workers who lost their lives in the attacks. Those who died, Johnston said “will forever serve to unite us in our commitment to the preservation of this great nation.”
Butterworth said the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives “just going to work” that day died because of the American principles of freedom, democracy and equality.
“There’s only one country on the face of the earth whose cornerstone tenet is based on endowment by its creator,” he said. “Whether you go back to the fight that occurred on this soil at Lexington and Concord, whether you consider the Battle of the Bulge or the streets of Baghdad, whatever the case may be, Americans have led the world in establishing freedom and justice for all. For that we should be proud.”
Those in attendance Wednesday expressed their pride by waving handheld American flags and singing along as the Cherokee High School chorus performed patriotic songs.
Sheriff Roger Garrison and Fire Chief Tim Prather also made the presentation of a memorial wreath for those who died in the terrorist attacks as Cherokee High student Micah Long played taps.
Although the al-Qaida-linked terrorists who carried out the attacks hoped to compromise America’s freedoms, Butterworth said they never stood a chance.
“The one thing that the attackers, the terrorists, did not count on was the resolve that we see here this morning, the resolve of the citizens of the United States of America,” he said.
Cherokee County Commissioner Raymond Gunnin, who at the time of Sept. 11, 2001, served as Cherokee County’s fire chief, said he recalls seeing such American resolve in the days following the attacks.
“The next week, when we responded to calls, people were on the side of the road holding up flags and waving them as we came (by),” Gunnin said during the ceremony Wednesday. “It made us proud.”
Gunnin asked those in attendance in downtown Canton on Wednesday to think back to Sept. 11, 2001.
“As we remember September the 11th, let’s think back to that day,” he said. “Where were you at? What were you doing?”
On that day, Gunnin said he was on duty at the fire department and was driving from one station to another when he heard of the events in New York City over the radio.
“When it came across the radio that an airplane had hit one of the Twin Towers, I thought to myself that this is probably a small plane,” the commissioner said.
But then, Gunnin said he heard the plane that hit was a passenger jet, and he knew “something was wrong, very wrong.”
He went to the fire station and turned on a television to watch media coverage of the developing situation with others firefighters there.
“We sat there glued to that TV in that room for hours and hours watching what was going on,” Gunnin said. “As we watched and the towers fell, we knew right then that many civilian lives had been lost.”
Gunnin said he and the other firemen also thought that day of the emergency workers who died on the job trying to save workers from the crumbling buildings.
With almost 3,000 lives ended that day, Gunnin said Americans must always work to protect their country and keep such events from happening again, while still keeping freedom alive.
“Keep it in your memory,” he said. “Never forget it that something that we thought would never happen happened.”