September 11 is a tough day for many Americans. The terrorist attacks profoundly affected America touching first responders, the military and civilians alike.
Maj. Gen. John "Pete" Johnson, Fort Jackson commander, and first responder chiefs honored the men and women of the Midlands who lost their lives in service to their country during a solemn ceremony in front of South Carolina's 9/11 memorial Sunday.
The memorial comprising of two stone towers cut off at the top and two steel beams from the World Trade Center is located just outside the Columbia Convention Center.
'What we commonly refer to as the 9/11 attacks caused horrific destruction and the death of over 3,000 people including hundreds of brave first responders rushing to help in the aftermath of the attacks," said Chief W.H. "Skip" Holbrook of the Columbia Police Department.
"These twists of steel behind me are a reminder and a memorial of the fallen heroes. Immediately after the attacks we learned Americans have the ability to handle unspeakable tragedy and work together to help one another. That spirit, that fight, is what defines us as Americans."
"9/11 was tragic for us," said Aubry D. Jenkins, chief of the Columbia Fire Department. "It was probably one of the worst days of this country, but because we are so strong -- we are the United States -- we are so strong we are going to push on. We may never forget, but we will push on."
The senior military leader at the ceremony shared how America's fighting force cares about the loved ones who have lost family members.
"We care passionately about those who carry the scars and the emotional burdens of loss," said Johnson during the ceremony.
On Sept. 11, 2001, first responders, military members and everyday people like Dawn Yamashiro's brother who was in the World Trade Center were killed.
Yamashiro said after 15 years it didn't seem that long because "so much has passed since that awful tragic day."
Her brother was an ordinary man, she said, "who simply went to work that day and did not come home."
The beams at the memorial are from the tower her brother worked in, so she goes to the memorial to remember him.
"Nothing was recovered from him," she added. "We didn't have a ring, a credit card or any of his affects."
Some of those in attendance who lost loved ones were grateful for the support of those attending the ceremony.
We as Family members "remember them every day; every hour of every day," said Gold Star mother Diane Rawl, mother of 1st Lt. Ryan D. Rawl of the South Carolina National Guard who was killed supporting Operation Enduring Freedom June 20, 2012.
"Time continues to march on but we will never forget," Rawl said.
For firefighters the attack fundamentally altered the way they conducted business.
"It changed the course of how we respond, because it made us realize we can't take anything for granted," said Jenkins. "It's not a matter of if, but when."
Jenkins spoke about his good friend Firefighter Tyrone Weston, of the Columbia Fire Department who died July 26, 2015 while on duty -- only a few shifts short of retirement -- calling on people to never forget those who fell on duty and the attacks of Sept. 11.
The ceremony also honored the lives of the first responders lost in the line of duty including Weston, Forest Acres police officer Gregory Alia, who was killed during a struggle at the Richland Mall Sept. 30, 2015, and Columbia police officer Stacey Case killed in an automobile accident Nov. 7, 2015.
"We cannot ever forget," Jenkins said. "We can forget, but why should we forget? We shouldn't forget. Forget is not in our vocabulary when it comes down to what happened 15 years ago today."
Johnson told those gathered that he was "honored to represent those in uniform of the Armed Forces who either answered the call of duty or recommitted ourselves to a greater purpose in defense of our nation and all that we hold dear."
"We were inspired and we continue to be in awe of the actions of our first responders that day in September 2001 and many days after it," said Johnson, who 15 years ago was deployed almost immediately to fight terrorism. "They answered the call and rushed to the aid of fellow Americans and stood as guardians in our neighborhoods across this great nation. They will stand tall in our nation's lineage of heroes."
Sixty-three South Carolinians were killed during the war on terror including Capt. Kimberly Hampton, a helicopter pilot shot down supporting Johnson's infantry unit in the fight for Fallujah, Iraq on Jan. 22, 2004. Hampton was the first female pilot to be shot down and killed in U.S. history.
A formation of Service members, policemen and firemen held a roll call of the fallen comrades during the ceremony.
"While today's event is appropriately somber as we reflect on painful memories, we as a nation, and certainly this great Midlands community must celebrate, and be proud of how we came together," Jonson said. "To first take care of those on the home front, and then how you supported your Soldiers, your sailors, your airmen, and you Marines who dutifully deployed and continue to deploy to Afghanistan, Iraq and other combat zones."
As the leader of a training post that pours millions of dollars into the Midlands each year, Johnson was thankful for the post's partnership with the local community.
"As commanding general of the Army's premier training post, your Fort Jackson, I am most appreciative and thankful of the efforts of this incredible community of Columbia and the greater Midlands. Your embrace and care for families since 9/11 represents the same great distinction and response to crisis that has made our partnership famous" since World War One.
The ceremony concluded with a wreath laying at the memorial by Johnson, Holbrook, Jenkins and other Midlands leaders.