George Graves and Edmond O'Mahoney will long remember where they were when they learned a plane had struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, as do many Americans.
What sets them apart is what they did in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
Graves, an FBI special agent, was training at a police academy in northwest New Jersey when he heard the news. After the second plane struck one of the twin towers, he and 50 other agents went to work, heading toward Newark and Paterson, N.J., to secure FBI offices.
He was traveling to Paterson when he first saw the smoke rising above Lower Manhattan.
O'Mahoney was in the thick of that smoke, moving through the North Tower with the Fire Department of New York's Ladder Company 22. The retired firefighter, visiting an old FDNY colleague in Bluffton, said 13 years later he was still amazed that he and his fellow firefighters made it out alive.
"It was miraculous," he said.
His old company, Ladder 35, lost five men Sept. 11.
O'Mahoney was in attendance with about 100 others Thursday outside Bluffton Town Hall to mark the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Graves, now assigned to the FBI's Hilton Head Resident Agency, was the ceremony's guest speaker.
Graves said he and his fellow FBI agents did not think much of the crash at first, believing it to be a small plane with a pilot "that had lost his way." But after watching the second plane strike the south tower -- and hearing all 50 of their pagers go off simultaneously -- they realized the gravity of the event.
After the attacks, Graves and his office investigated many of the leads about the hijackers of United Flight 93, which departed from nearby Newark Liberty International Airport and crashed short of its target in Pennsylvania.
He also witnessed firsthand how the FBI adapted to combat terrorism, strengthening intelligence-gathering and creating terrorism task forces. Before the attacks, there were 35 joint terrorism task forces nationwide. Today, that number surpasses 100, Graves said.
"9/11 was a game-changer for the FBI," Graves said.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka called Sept. 11 a "mark of American resilience," asking the crowd to remember and honor the thousands who perished that day, and the thousands of military personnel wounded or killed in combat since then.
O'Mahoney said he thought the Bluffton ceremony was "fabulous" and planned to attend the ceremony at nearby Michael C. Riley Elementary School, which followed. He noted that all of the children present weren't yet born when the attacks occurred.
"It's up to all of us to keep that remembrance going," he said.
Hilton Head Island resident Ted Druhot spoke Thursday morning at the 9/11 ceremony in Beaufort's waterfront park, which was attended by more than 100 people.
Druhot, a Red Cross volunteer, was sent to New York City immediately after the attacks. He spent three weeks assisting first responders and those inquiring about survivors, casualties, transportation in and out of the city, and other information. He remembered a phone call with a man who'd been at the World Trade Center during the attacks and wanted to commit suicide.
That man went on to volunteer with the Red Cross.
"It was at that point that I realized all causalities of this event were victims, but not all victims were casualties," Druhot said.
- Bluffton ceremony honors victims of 9/11 attacks , Sept. 11, 2013