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Mass serves as a reminder of tragedy and its heroes

Firefighters from Lady's Island/St. Helena and Fripp Island fire departments remember the 343 New York City firefighters killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack during a memorial Mass on Friday at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Lady's Island.
Firefighters from Lady's Island/St. Helena and Fripp Island fire departments remember the 343 New York City firefighters killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack during a memorial Mass on Friday at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Lady's Island. BOB SOFALY | The Beaufort Gazette

Heads bowed solemnly, more than 30 area firefighters walked down the center aisle Friday morning at St. Peter's Catholic Church to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the day 343 of their colleagues reported to work -- and never came home.

Firefighters from the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District, Fripp Island Fire Department, Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Division and Burton Fire District attendedthe church's annual Sept. 11 memorial mass.

The service was created by the late Robert McKay -- a Lady's Island resident and former New York City firefighter who died in 2006 -- to honor those who died in the attacks and pray for area first-responders.

"Firefighting is a family thing," said his son, Bill McKay, a Lady's Island-St. Helena firefighter. "He thought that we should do something for 9/11. He was a devout Catholic, and he loved firefighters. He passed away but we were determined to keep it going."

The events of Sept. 11 still play in the minds of many, said the Rev. Tim Tebalt, pastor at St. Peter's.

"The events of Sept. 11 reached out and touched so many across our nation," Tebalt said. "Hardly was there a community, including this one, that was not deeply impacted in a personal way by the great horror, terror and tragedy of that day."

Across town, Beaufort firefighters attended a pair of remembrance events Friday at Beaufort Middle School and Mossy Oaks Elementary School.

Lt. Dan Byrne, spokesman for the fire department, said Sept. 11 forever changed the nation's fire service.

"It represented the new era that the fire service has entered into and the dangers of our job, not only to us, but also to our families who watched the towers come down on top of those 343 firefighters," Byrne said. "This war on terror now lies across the doorstep of every American, and as firefighters, we're the ones defending that front line. That's a whole new way of thinking, operating and training."

The Lowcountry Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America also held a ceremony Friday at Beaufort National Cemetery.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Pearson said the number of lives loss on Sept. 11 should make it a day Americans remember forever.

"For military folks like us who have detected our lives to service the big events that they make movies about -- Pearl Harbor, the Hindenburg, the sinking of the Maine -- pale in comparison to the loss of life we suffered on 9/11," Pearson said. "This is a dangerous world and we should never underestimate the true nature of evil people."

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