LUMBERTON — When 74-year-old Phyllis Benton talks about Sept. 11, her eyes quickly moisten — just as they did the day she saw the Twin Towers fall on her television screen.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she said. “Tears were flowing as I thought of all the families who lost people they loved and whose lives were now changed forever, and that lasted all day.”
Eleven years later, Benton was in a crowd of about 30 who gathered at Biggs Park Mall on Tuesday to remember the day that nearly 3,000 people died in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on a hijacked plane with a pilot whose suicide mission was thwarted in a grassy field in Pennsylvania. On that day, more than 400 first responders lost their lives, many of whom who died trying to save others.
“Just like our servicemen, our police officers give a lot, they sacrifice a lot to keep us safe,” Benton said. “And it isn’t easy. For those who lost their life, it’s the least we can do.”
Back-dropped by an American flag and poster-sized scenes from the day of the attacks, local first responders gathered on the mall’s stage to remember those who died in the line of duty.
Shady Lennon, of Biggs Park Mall security, opened the ceremony with a moment of silence and a prayer for “all of those families affected, every one that has suffered loss and separation, to that special child who no longer has a father, grandfather or mother, even to the janitors and their families.”
Lumberton police Officer Misty White read a poem titled “The Final Inspection” that tells the story of a police officer who stood to face God after death, and Lumberton firefighter Bobby Osborn asked everyone to remember their local first responders.
Sheriff’s Lt. Brian Duckworth said that special remembrance should be given to the sacrifice made by Lumberton Officer Jeremiah Goodson, who was shot to death while attempting to serve a warrant at a gas station on July 17.
“People ought to remember that when the attack came it was our local services that came under attack,” he said. “…Just keep us in your prayers and we’ll do everything we can to help you.”
Robert Ivey, of Lumberton Rescue and EMT, said the attacks of Sept. 11 are something no one will forget.
“All of us remember where we were at when we saw the planes hit the twin towers at the World Trade Center — it’s one of those things you never forget,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, there was a separate flag-raising ceremony remembering 9/11 at the Robeson County Church and Community Center on West Fifth Street.
State Sen. Michael Walters, standing near a newly-installed flag pole at the center, seconded Ivey’s sentiment by saying he could remember exactly where he was when he received the phone call “about the attacks.”
“I don’t think America has come together more at any other time then on that day,” he said.
Walters was one of about 50 who had gathered at the center to raise an American flag, a gift from the Woodmen of the World Lodge 225, to half-mast. Also raised was the Robeson County flag, presented to the center by County Manager Ricky Harris.
County Commissioners Tom Taylor and Jerry Stephens helped Walters hang the flags.
“You don’t forget things like this,” said Taylor, who is chief at Allenton Volunteer Fire Department. “It could have been here.”
The Rev. Dr. Matt Rich encouraged those in attendance to instill the memory of the attacks in those who were too young to witness them.
“There will be a whole generation of people that do not remember this day,” he said. “We must tell them so that they will carry on the remembrance.”