Home Local News Richmond County first responders honor 9-11 victims

Richmond County first responders honor 9-11 victims

Rayquan Nelson of the Rockingham Fire Department carries the U.S. flag during Richmond County's annual 9-11 memorial march. See more photos below. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Rayquan Nelson started working for the Rockingham Fire Department on Monday.

His first duty: carrying the U.S. flag and leading first responders from across Richmond County on a three-mile trek to honor those who were killed on 9-11.

For a decade, local firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency personnel have marched from the old courthouse to Walmart to pay tribute to those lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

“…(They) made the ultimate sacrifice to save others,” said Capt. Austin Parker of the Rockingham Fire Department. “It has been 22 years since that day, and for many of us, memories of those who were lost are still fresh in our minds.”

Nearly 3,000 people died after the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a crash into the Pentagon and a crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

As of last December, more than 4,000 first responders and other survivors have since died from toxic exposure, according to a report on asbestos.com, which cites information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s World Trade Center Health Program.

“We remember the towers falling, the people running for their lives, the chaos and destruction that unfolded, but we also remember the courage and resilience of the American people,” Parker continued. “We saw people helping each other, strangers coming together to offer comfort and support and firefighters and police officers making the ultimate sacrifice.

“In the days and weeks that followed, we came together as a nation to mourn the loss of our loved ones and to rebuild our communities,” Parker said. “We vowed to never forget those who were lost and we pledged to never let such an attack happen again.

“Today, we renew that vow. We will never forget the victims of 9-11 and we will never forget the heroes who saved lives that day. We will continue to fight for freedom and justice and we will never give in to fear.”

Sheriff Mark Gulledge acknowledged the work of the first responders of the county, many of whom do so on a volunteer basis.

“We will never forget the men and women on the front lines still working today, tirelessly, to honor them and to remember their legacies,” Gulledge said. “Each and every one of you are our personal heroes. God bless you.”


Parker also thanked those from the various departments who came out for the annual event.

“Your presence here today is a testament to the courage and dedication that you all have,” Parker said. “You put your own lives on the line to save others and we will never forget your sacrifice.”

RFD Chaplain Robby Stewart said it’s in times of weakness and vulnerability “that we recognize how strong and brave we are … and that was demonstrated on 9-11.”

“You saw a lot of men and women who had a lot of courage,” Stewart said. “It didn’t mean that they didn’t have fear, but true courage … is having bravery and courage and doing what it is God has instilled in your heart to do in a time of crisis.”

Stewart told the crowd that they do it every day.

“When the call of duty arises, you don’t necessarily think about the danger and the fear as much as you’re thinking about the lives of those that you’re out to save,” Stewart said. “That’s something that doesn’t come through a textbook, you can’t learn it on a computer in a classroom. That’s something that comes from the very depths of your heart, and that’s why you are who you are.

“You may not have to go into a skyscraper or into a building like the Pentagon, but you still go into people’s houses and to plants, and you go into various dangerous situations every day of your life,” Stewart continued. “And you are heroes as well.”

The walk was started by four local first responders in 2013 and the Rockingham Fire Department took over planning in 2015.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.