MYRTLE BEACH — On Sept. 11, 2001, New York City Firefighter Kevin OBrien stood in the rubble of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when the North Tower collapsed.
Is this going to hurt? he wondered.
Days later at ground zero, he met Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday who had driven to New York City because he needed to help, and the two formed an acquaintance that culminated in them sharing a stage Tuesday evening at Broadway at the Beach.
Both were there for the unveiling of a piece of steel from the North Tower that OBrien and a friend took from the site to thank Golden and Myrtle Beach for the kindnesses they have shown for more than 10 years to the first responders of the tragedy that fused the spirit of all Americans, if only for a while.
That spirit is no longer as evident, said some of the hundreds who gathered for the dedication of the Unity Memorial on the 29th Avenue side of the shopping and entertainment development. But in the memorial, perhaps, they can all remember that common bond and how much we still share.
Mark Donevant of Myrtle Beach said he the bond is because they risked their lives to save others.
Firefighters and police officers said it is sharing a job that asks the same of each of them, no matter where they live.
Theresa Regan, 9/11 widow, said it is the willingness of people all over the country to help others they see in need.
While the Unity Memorial will be a reminder to the residents of the Grand Strand of the first responders and others who died at the World Trade Center, it will for Regan, be a way to recall the kindnesses of firefighters from all over the country who sat around her kitchen table consoling her and telling her they would do whatever necessary to help her move forward.
That bond remains, said Regan, who moved to Myrtle Beach -- where before 9/11 the family had vacationed -- in 2006. If she needs to, she said, she knows she can go into any fire department and find help.
I want to thank the firefighters who took time from their own families to help ours, she said during the ceremony.
The piece of steel from the North Tower sits atop a pedestal with a plaque dedicating it to Myrtle Beach businesses for the kindness their support of the FDNY 9-11 Memorial Golf Outing, a tournament now in its 11th year at Grand Strand courses.
Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday and the Myrtle Beach Hospitality Association led a group that also included the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the city of Myrtle Beach in hosting 3,000 to 4,000 first responders and their families in free vacations offered in 2002 to give them some relief from the stress of cleaning up the mess that terrorists created.
The Unity Memorial also includes a nearby monument built in 2009 by area Scouts and adorned with numerous individually-decorated ceramic tiles expressing their feelings of unity.
OBrien, now retired, was on the Staten Island Ferry as it was docking just blocks from the World Trade Center when the South Tower fell.
Stephanie Mikalatos had arrived in New York City from Germany to visit friends the day before and felt the building she was in a block away shake as the South Tower fell. Her husband, Richard Mikalatos, was in the U.S. Air Force National Training Center in California.
The two met later when Richard was stationed in Germany and now live in Myrtle Beach, where he is a police officer with the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
Stephanie Mikalatos said ceremonies such as that Tuesday evening make her feel more American than German. Like many native-born Americans, she takes the tragedy personally. It makes her feel both sad and enraged, she said.
Donevant said he still has a sticker on his truck seeking the hide of Osama bin Laden for his part as the mastermind of the death of 3,000 people in New York City, Washington, D.C., and a rural field in Pennsylvania.
Lt. Bob Carr of the Horry County Police Department said watching events unfold on television, as did most Americans, was the scariest thing hed ever seen. He, too, feels the bond. He said he will visit the Unity Memorial from time to time as he does the police memorial in Conway dedicated to those who died in the line of duty. He will think of those who died and their families, he said.
Be like a firefighter, OBrien urged the crowd at the end of his remarks. Never forget.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765