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