BRADENTON -- With heart-felt words, a symbolic release of 40 white doves, patriotic song, and firefighters, police officers and soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, Manatee County on Friday morning paid tribute to the heroes and victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Over and over, participants at the Last Alarm monument in Rossi Waterfront Park said America must never forget the terrible day when it suffered the loss of 3,000 innocent lives, and when another 3,000 were injured.
Jimmy O’Brien, a retired firefighter from the New York City Fire Department now living in Manatee County, said he had many sad thoughts on the events of eight years ago.
O’Brien arrived at Ground Zero as the north tower was collapsing and participated in the search for survivors.
“Today, we know there were none,” he said. “All of us lost many, many friends. Our mantra is to never forget.”
Lt. Bob Mikulski of East Manatee Fire Rescue, said nationwide, 103 firefighters died in the line of duty in 2008, including three in Florida.
Manatee County recently marked the deaths of retired fire chiefs Paul Deese Jr. of the Samoset Fire Department and Bobby Maddox of the Myakka Fire Department, he said.
Others who lost their lives in the past year were paramedic James Gaunt of Emergency Medical Services and firefighter Bryan Reed of the West Manatee Fire Department, Mikulski said.
Andy Price, president of the Manatee Fire Chiefs Association, said Tom Hennessey, retired fire chief for Southern Manatee Fire Rescue, who had spearheaded all of the previous Tribute to Heroes ceremonies, was attending the ceremony Friday at the World Trade Center site in New York.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said about 400 first-responders, including firefighters, paramedics and police officers, lost their lives at Ground Zero.“Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Our country is truly the land of the free and the home of the brave,” Poston said.
Stan Pavkovich, chaplain for Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue, prayed that Americans would take the tragedy of 9/11 and turn it into something positive by working hard to make it a better world.
Antonio Morales, a Junior ROTC cadet from Southeast High School, said it was a “powerful, emotional moment,” when local survivors of first-responders who died in the last year participated in the dove release.
Three doves were released initially, followed by 37 others. The doves flew east and then circled back, with all 40 flying over the crowd at the Last Alarm monument.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.