Ten years later and we still can't forget.
More than 350 firemen and women, police officer, friends, relatives and nearby residents gathered inside the still-rather-new Darlington Volunteer Fire Company station, 1520 Whiteford Road, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to commemorate a special memorial outside the station dedicated to those who died and those who survived that day, as well as the people in the community who helped make it all possible.
The fire trucks were parked outside to make room for the hundreds of folding chairs inside the station, all facing a podium in the far right corner where several volunteer firemen and public officials, as well as one very special attendee, spoke.
The ceremony began with a prayer ("as we always do in Darlington," Jim Terrell said) led by Rev. Jim Johnson of the Dublin United Methodist Church. The Harford County Young Marines then brought to the podium the Maryland and American flags for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Volunteer firefighter Robert Nelson was the first to speak. He told the story of how the station obtained the steel I-beam from the World Trade Center after nearly a year of waiting for the New York and New Jersey Port Authority to e-mail back and say "come pick it up." The memorials "is dedicated to the citizens of our community," Nelson said.
It was fitting to then have special guest, Amy Andrews, speak. Andrews was working at the front desk of the Marriott World Trade Center when she heard a loud explosion. The first plane had just hit, but no one knew what it was yet. Debris began to fall and Andrews was called to assist security guard Magaly "Maggie" Ruperto-Rivera, who was also in attendance.
"We could smell an unusual scent," Andrews said of that morning. Everyone in the hotel began to evacuate except for Andrews, Ruperto-Rivera, several managers, guards and firemen who were racing inside the building. Andrews was told to get out but she didn't listen – she was the only one with a pass code to call the outside phone line for help.
Andrews "could see the fear and horror" in the eyes of the firemen. That's when the building began to collapse. The tower crumbling down sent Andrews, Ruperto-Rivera and others flying across the room, covering them in debris and making everything dark. She couldn't stand up.
"I didn't tell my family that I loved them. I didn't want to die this way," Andrews remembers thinking while trapped under the rubble. She had to take her shoes off to get free from the fallen pieces and climb up four stories worth of debris to reach the outside. "Everything was white," she said.
Andrews didn't have "time to wonder what had happened" before she saw the second tower collapse. She and Ruperto-Rivera survived that day because of the firemen who helped lead them out from under the remains of the building they were working inside not even an hour earlier.
Three months later, Andrews joined the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Dover Air Force base in Delaware. Her job was to help rehab the military men and women who suffered injuries.
"All of the extraordinary experiences made me a different person," Andrews said. "I learned not to take any day for granted."
Everyone who spoke after Andrews – Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Director of Administration Mary Chance, Council President Billy Boniface, Councilman Chad Shrodes, Sheriff Jesse Bane, Chief John Singleton and fire company president Mike Vincent – commented on her heroism and personally thanked Andrews for coming to speak that day. Chance remarked that she couldn't "even begin to imagine what she went through," and for that they honored her being there.
Boniface stressed the importance of reminding young people, those who weren't born yet or don't remember Sept. 11, 2001, of what happened that day.
"One cannot be humbled by its presence," said Bane of the 9/11 artifact, the centerpiece of the memorial. He spoke of the men and women who died as a result of the attacks and said, "In a way, their deaths were for our freedom."
Volunteer firefighter Jerry Scarborough thanked all the businesses and people who helped bring the memorial to fruition, naming all of those who donated time, resources, money and goods to the project. He repeatedly mentioned that building the memorial, which was only completed Saturday, was a community effort that only came together because so many people were willing to help.
Shirley Ernst, of Bel Air, a "professional paper cutter," as Scarborough described, had made a piece of art to give to the fire company that day – a cream colored piece of paper on top of a black background with firemen holding up an American flag cut out of it. Ernst said she had very recently undergone a cornea transplant and was told by her doctor that it would take three weeks to recover. She was so moved when she read about the fire company's story and their 9/11 memorial that she wanted to present them with this token of her appreciation. Her recovery only took four days and she can see "completely fine." After the ceremony, Ernst told Ruperto-Rivera this story. She immediately began to cry and the two hugged.
The Darlington Volunteer Fire Company was blown away by the attendance Sunday and the support they had seen from the community. Administration Captain Connie Weissert said it had "been a wonderful experience" building the memorial and now dedicating it to the community. "Everybody has come together," she said
"It's amazing, the amount of civilians here," Nelson commented. He said they were hoping to bring out 300 people that day and was a little surprised when around 370 locals showed up. "We're just so happy we could give the community an artifact," he said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun