By LOIS KINDLE
Last Saturday, municipalities across the nation honored the victims and heroes of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Here in Ruskin, the South Shore community had a solemn observance of its own.
The SouthShore Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee planned and implemented a 20th anniversary commemoration called “Drive to Remember,” which took place at the Firehouse Cultural Center on First Avenue Northeast. A huge static display of New York City, supplied by the firehouse, set the stage for the event, which included both moving music and narrative of the timeline of happenings the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, broadcast by WPHX 101.9 FM radio.
Signs and a banner commemorating 9-11 were placed street-side so drivers could recall their significance two decades later. Ruskin Memorial VFW Post 6287 donated money to offset the cost of the signs, and South Shore Signs made and donated a huge banner.
“We had the idea to bring some sort of tribute/memorial to the South Shore community,” said Melanie Davis, the chamber’s executive director. “We all have a responsibility to remember the day, all those who lost their lives in the attacks, the brave men and women who responded, as well as those who have fought and died since then.
“Locally, we want our first responders to know we see their sacrifices, and we’re forever grateful,” Davis continued. “We have to make sure our children know about what happened on 9-11 or else it will become just another day on the calendar.
“The feeling of unity everyone had (at that time) was the feeling we had this morning,” she said.
Beth Stein, Firehouse Cultural Center programs manager, agreed. “I thought the event was wonderfully respectful of everything that encompassed 9-11,” she said. “It was very moving.”
Representatives of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Station 17 in Ruskin, chamber members and community volunteers came by to participate in the observance. Among them was Richard A. Bell, a retired captain with the Lake Mishnock Fire Company, in West Greenwich, R.I. He and four other firefighters responded on 9-11 in a rescue truck carrying infrared cameras.
What he saw and experienced that day still affects him. “It was absolutely overwhelming,” said Bell, a rookie back then. “The devastation was indescribable.”
He said he remembers carrying someone’s elbow away from the rubble and seeing a half open body bag with a woman inside it who looked so peaceful.
After 20 years, those and other horrific images still haunt him, especially on this day,” said Bell, who now lives in Ruskin.
“I still have nightmares,” he added, noting, like many of those who were part of the 9-11 rescue and recovery efforts, he is experiencing physical after-effects. “But I’d do it all again without thinking twice,” he said.