Almost 12 years have passed since 19 Islamic terrorists collectively brought a modern day of infamy for the United States. Many people might quote the title from a Darryl Worley hit from 2003 in response, “Have You Forgotten?”
Various groups across the Grand Strand will answer a resounding “No” to that question, by having remembrances and benefits on Wednesday, in memory of the losses this nation endured on, and rebounded from, Sept. 11, 2001.
Those gatherings include the FDNY-Carolinas Retirees Association, former New York City Fire Department employees who have relocated to North and South Carolina. This group, with about 120 members, has multiple memorials on Wednesday, starting with a church Mass in North Myrtle Beach, then a motorcade in Brunswick County for a service at Brunswick Community College and a ceremony in North Myrtle Beach’s Horseshoe.
Bob Gustavson, the association president, who lives in Carolina Shores, N.C., and Theresa Regan of Murrells Inlet, whose husband, Don, died in service on Sept. 11 in New York and had worked with Gustavson earlier in Brooklyn, each reflected on what that day, and the reactions and commemorations since then, mean to them.
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Gustavson said this day of area activities by FDNY retirees has become an annual tradition, with constant support from fellow retired firefighters and the community.
Question | How big is this core of helpers to make each FDNY event special and touching?
Gustavson | Everybody helps. If I ask anybody and say it’s for 9/11 – whether it’s the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Department, the church or a person who sells flags – they’re like, “Sure. What do I do?” It’s simply amazing.
Q. | How challenging is orchestrating this schedule of activities in which the FDNY group takes part?
A. | It kind of almost runs itself now. ... We’ve probably been doing this for about 11 years. ... The cooperation we get from outside agencies is unbelievable, and everything falls into place.
Q. | How do these Sept . 11 memorial observances take on extra special meaning as time marches on?
A. | To each and every FDNY member, it was very personal. I wasn’t there on 9/11; I had moved down here just two months prior. My son – he was involved with rescue operations; he was a fireman. ... It’s just that I cannot explain it. I knew so many of the guys personally.
Q. | How do these commemorations here and nationwide remind people to never forget?
A. | It kind of reminds us guys who relocated down here that this is the face of the FDNY to the people who have never been to New York or have no connection to New York. It puts it on a personal level, if you see a person with a FDNY patch on or an emblem. It puts a face on the tragedy.
Q. | How has time helped with hopes of healing?
A. | Time has helped with healing, but time doesn’t heal it completely. But the healing started on Sept. 12, when the whole nation came together and asked, “What can we do to help?” The healing process started on Sept. 12, and it’s still going on.
A widow remembers
Theresa Regan was married 27 years to Don Regan, a firefighter in New York’s Bronx borough and the father of their three sons – including a firefighter in Charleston and another in New York – and one daughter.
Q. | What’s the thing about Don you miss the most since Sept. 11, 2001, something you might not have known to cherish enough before then?
Regan | He wasn’t able to share in our grandchildren.
Q. | In the almost-12 years since this tragedy left a crater in our country, what newfound appreciation have you gained for everyone who works as a first responder, anywhere?
A. | What I’ve learned is what a true brotherhood it is, and it’s not just one department; it’s any firemen from anywhere. I am treated the same way from a firefighter here, in California or anywhere, and that it’s such a family oriented brotherhood. We’re just part of this family that I don’t think anyone outside can understand.
Q. | How has Sept. 11 occupied an extra special place on your calendar, and in your mind, heart and spirit, every year?
A. | Sept. 11, to me, is every day.
Q. | What do we as a nation need to do more of to keep the memory about Sept. 11 and the meaning of how the American people can unite in response in the forefront, especially for everyone born since autumn 2001?
A. | Never forget.