Augustans remember 9/11

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Joanna Higgenbottom spent last week checking church bulletins and city calendars for something that could help her children understand the 9/11 attacks their youthful age doesn’t let them remember.

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Joanne Kennelly, whose brother, NYFD firefighter Paul Tegtmeier, was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, gives a hug to New York Fire Department firefighter Richard Nogan during the ceremony.       MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Joanne Kennelly, whose brother, NYFD firefighter Paul Tegtmeier, was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, gives a hug to New York Fire Department firefighter Richard Nogan during the ceremony.

Oldest son JoJo, now 16, said all he can remember from the attacks is thinking of Osama bin Laden as a monster.

Noah, 14, can only imagine the day from pictures and news stories, and daughter Shelby, 10, was an infant in her mother’s arms as Higgenbottom watched the attacks on TV

“It’s important to me because it’s still so very real to me, and I want my children to understand what it’s really about,” Higgenbottom said. “It’s the first time in my life I was scared in my country, and I want to make sure my kids don’t forget.”

So on the 10th anniversary, she took her family to a place that was meant for reflection.

About 200 people gathered at the Augusta Common on Sunday for a remembrance ceremony held by the Augusta Fire Department.

Although the event was to honor all those affected by the attacks, the focus was on thanking past and present firefighters and the daily sacrifices they make.

“We came to appreciate ... I came to appreciate what firemen are willing to do on 9/11,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Chaplain Ken Gross.

In the audience were residents who wanted to pay their respects and about 40 Augusta firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and Richmond County marshals.

Several of them had special connections to that day 10 years ago.

Richard Nogan, a now-retired New York firefighter, was on duty when the first plane hit the north tower.

He and a crew of seven firefighters were assigned to the 82nd floor of the north tower to search for survivors and help people get out.

Just as he was heading in with his team, the tower collapaed and a city of smoke and chaos separated him and his men.

“At the time I thought, ‘I was supposed to die in a fire, but not like this,’” said Nogan, who now lives in Aiken.

Nogan changed his rescue plan and headed into the south tower’s Marriott Hotel on the lobby level, where he searched for survivors but found none.

“We were lucky ourselves we survived,” he said.

Nogan sat Sunday with at least three other former New York firefighters, who are now all retired and living in Augusta.

Serge Burack, a retired NYFD lieutenant who helped with the rescue mission at ground zero, said remembrance ceremonies help people honor that day, even though he has constant reminders.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 10 years,” Burack said.

“It really feels like a lot less. During the course of my days, something always brings it back. I’ll never forget it.”

During his address to the audience, Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said that as horrific as the attacks were, they brought the community
and the country together like it had never been before.

Copenhaver said Augusta raised $1 million shortly after the attacks and was the first city to contribute money to New York City for rescues and cleanup.

Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett told the audience that bond and the respect shown in Sunday’s ceremony should not just be on an anniversary.

“I just hope that we don’t just wait for this one day every year to come together,” Lockett said. “I hope we stay together.”

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