Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 4, 2011


First Responders deserve to be honored as heroes


        The terrible day known as 9/11 resulted in a new, nationwide respect for the men and women we call “first responders.” Next Sunday, on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, churches across America will pay tribute to their local first responders. It will be a way of remembering the uncommon sacrifice made by members of the New York City Police Department.

        Our church, Saint James Methodist, has invited first responders to worship with us and to be our guests for lunch. It is a small way of saying thank you to the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day. This recognition of first responders helps us honor those who died heroically on 9/11.

        Many of us remember watching the unbelievable horror of 9/11 on television. It was surreal. We were living in an apartment in Opelika, having sold our home in preparation for my retirement the next year. That morning I was getting ready to go to work when my wife called out, “You had better come watch this!”

        We were glued to the television screen for several hours as the terrorist attacks were reported.  The Twin Towers had been struck by passenger planes. At first no one had any idea that the buildings would collapse in ruins before our very eyes. Another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Soon there was word of yet another plane going down in a remote area of Pennsylvania.

        With everyone in America we wondered what would happen next? Would the White House be the next target? Or the Capitol? Who was responsible for these attacks? Where was the President? Was this really happening? Wild thoughts raced through our minds.

        To escape the inferno in the Twin Towers some people jumped out of windows high above the street to certain death. My eyes filled with tears as I watched ordinary people, civilians not soldiers, suddenly suffering and dying a horrible death. I could hardly imagine what those helpless people were going through as the final moments of their lives were engulfed by smoke, burning fuel and raging fire. The screaming and excruciating cries for help must have been unspeakably horrifying.

        The first impulse of any normal person would be to run away from burning buildings. Yet we watched as firemen and policemen risked their lives by rushing into the smoke, fire and falling debris to bring survivors to safety. Many of them died trying. That day 343 firefighters and 60 police officers died, sacrificing their lives for others as smoldering debris rained from the sky. Almost 3,000 people perished as the worst terrorist attack in American history brought down the Twin Towers.

        Some of the first responders who survived 9/11 have endured severe health problems as a result of the dust and smoke that gushed from the burning, crumbling buildings. Many have suffered from respiratory illnesses. They too deserve to be remembered.

        It seems ironic that while first responders are being honored across our nation next Sunday, the first responders of New York City have not been invited to the memorial ceremony at ground zero. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for whatever reason, has not invited them to attend.  

        This is the same mayor who has also banned clergy and prayer from the Sunday memorial ceremony. I suppose the good mayor thinks it would be offensive to some people to have a Christian pray to Almighty God during the ceremony.

        Mayor Bloomberg evidently has a short memory. He must have forgotten that on 9/11 when evil was at its worst, multitudes of Americans turned to God. Everywhere people gathered, in all types of arenas, they began singing “God Bless America.” The song united us. It helped us express our resolve to seek God’s help to recover and defend the freedoms for which so many have died.

        Prayers may not be offered at ground zero Sunday but millions of Americans will be praying. They will be thanking God for the heroic first responders who sacrificed their lives for others on 9/11. They will be thanking God for the first responders in every community who are prepared to risk their lives when terrorism rears its awful head again or when disaster of any kind occurs.

        Sunday I will proudly display my American flag for I do love this land. I will gladly ask God to “stand beside us and guide us” for I believe he wants our nation to honor him by offering all people the freedom to worship and live in peace with one another.

I will thank God for blessing America in a thousand ways, not the least of which has been to inspire countless men and women to become first responders who are constantly ready to sacrifice their lives for their fellow citizens. There are indeed heroes among us. So we do well to honor them Sunday and to remember with gratitude those who made the supreme sacrifice on 9/11. + + +