‘Everybody alive that day will never forget’

Businesses, residents support 9/11 memorial walk by first-responders

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Photo gallery – more than 800 shots
* Video – meet your first-responders

ROCKINGHAM — Traffic was halted by Rockingham Police Department officers Thursday afternoon at the intersection of Highway Business 74 and U.S. Route 1.

It was a little after 3:30 p.m. Rev. Vivian Williams, of Stelly’s Tabernacle AME Zion Church, figured the appropriate thing to do was exit her silver Pontiac sedan, pointed westbound on 74, and stand up.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Adrian Robson, of Rockingham Rescue, waves a large American flag as the rest of the 9/11 memorial walk participants finish the 2.85-mile journey at Walmart in Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Adrian Robson, of Rockingham Rescue, waves a large American flag as the rest of the 9/11 memorial walk participants finish the 2.85-mile journey at Walmart in Rockingham.

Then she clapped.

Williams was one of many who stood in respect, honor and awe of more than two dozen Richmond County first-responders to walk the 2.85 miles from the former Richmond County courthouse down Hancock Street and along Highway Business 74 to Walmart. There, they were greeted by several Walmart employees, who had set up an aid station of water, Gatorade and snacks to refuel.

The convoy included more than 20 who walked the entire distance, plus drivers and support crew from Rockingham Rescue, Rockingham Fire Department, Cordova Fire and Rescue, Hoffman Fire and Rescue, Rockingham Police Department, Hamlet Police Department, East Rockingham Fire Department, Northside Volunteer Fire Department and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

Walmat store manager Brian Fore, in the position for about a month since transferring from Wadesboro, said getting involved and setting up a reception was an easy decision once he found out about the second-year event. Fore said his father was a volunteer firefighter in Southern Pines for 26 years. He grew up at the fire station.

Fore said he knew that “we need(ed) to do something, just to show appreciation. Why wouldn’t we?”

Fore said that Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pa. — an attack on America itself — will always be “a special day … everybody alive that day will never forget.”

Wilco employees at the gas station along Highway Business 74 at Long Drive offered the first-responders some relief. At roughly the midway point, it was as good a time as any for a water break. Wilco opened its doors and offered free water.

Along 74, shoppers become onlookers at the spectacle taking up one eastbound lane. Paul DeBerry brought his daughters, Kaylee, 8, and Brystal, 3, roadside to watch.

“I wanted to stop (and) just show appreciation,” DeBerry said. “I’m thankful for what they do for us.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Bentley Cohoon, 3, cheers on the first-responders — especially his father, Joseph, of the Rockingham Fire Department.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Bentley Cohoon, 3, cheers on the first-responders — especially his father, Joseph, of the Rockingham Fire Department.

DeBerry lamented that first-responders weren’t shown this type of appreciation often enough. And it’s easy to do, he said, from community dinners to “at least tell ’em ‘thank you.'”

His children were not alive when the planes truck the Twin Towers, crashed into the Pentagon or when the Flight 93 passengers overwhelmed the hijackers and crashed into a field in Somerset County. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know about Sept. 11.

“I tell them about it every year it comes along,” DeBerry said.

As a Dad, he works to keep the message age-appropriate. Kaylee’s intelligence makes it difficult to hide too much of what happened.

“She’s very smart,” he said. “I’m pretty honest and straightforward with her. It’s the best thing to do. I tell her that people don’t like our way of life.”

Motorists passing by the convoy in the opposite direction honked their horns. Little boys and girls who were already out of their parents’ vehicles at a gas station or fast food restaurant couldn’t help but watch and cheer on what was to them an unexpected parade.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kendell Watson, 11, has been a junior firefighter with the East Rockingham Fire Department for three years.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kendell Watson, 11, has been a junior firefighter with the East Rockingham Fire Department for three years.

Firefighters and medics responded with a casual wave. It meant a lot to people like Josh Watkins. The 23-year-old has been a volunteer with Northside Volunteer Fire Department for three years.

He joined, he said, “to help people out.”

The memorial walk meant a lot to Amber Cohoon and her 3-year-old son, Bentley. Cohoon’s husband, Joseph, is a firefighter with the Rockingham Fire Department. He’s been there for about six years, she said. How does she react, she’s asked, when he gets called out to a structure fire?

“There’s fear,” she said, “but somebody’s got to do it.”

Cohoon said first-responders don’t consider themselves heroes, but she said that anybody who runs towards danger to help, instead of running away, “is a hero to me.”

Mary Gainey could sympathize with Cohoon’s mix of fear and respect. She and her daughter, Madison, 18, share their Cordova home with a Hamlet firefighter.

“It makes me proud,” Mary Gainey said of having a firefighter for a husband, “but it makes me scared.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Paul DeBerry and his daughters, Kaylee, 8, and Brystal, 3, turn into spectators along Highway Business 74 near Big Lots.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Paul DeBerry and his daughters, Kaylee, 8, and Brystal, 3, turn into spectators along Highway Business 74 near Big Lots.

The response made event coordinator Adrian Robson’s day. The 20-year-old had six participants last year. It wasn’t quite the way he envision. This year was three times the fun.

“It makes us feel good,” he said of the response. “We do what we do for them. At the end of the day … I know I helped somebody in some way. That let’s me sleep at night.”

Elizabeth Berry, of Ellerbe, read about the memorial walk Monday on PeeDeePost.com. So she brought her two grandchildren, Tristan, 6, and Sara, 5, of Hamlet out to watch after her shift at Food Lion ended.

“I just wanted them to see it,” Berry said of the procession. “I think this is really cool.”

But it’s all in a day’s work to people like Keith Kottwitz. The Army veteran spent four years with the 10th Mountain Division as a truck driver, including nine months in Afghanistan. The 22-year-old Richmond County native said fighting fires is a little bit easier than that.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Scott Waters, chief of Rockingham Rescue, greets Keith Kottwitz at the end of the 9/11 memorial walk Thursday at Walmart in Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Scott Waters, chief of Rockingham Rescue, greets Keith Kottwitz, of the Rockingham Fire Department, at the end of the 9/11 memorial walk Thursday at Walmart in Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Josh Watkins, 23, is a three-year veteran volunteer with Northside Volunteer Fire Department.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Josh Watkins, 23, is a three-year veteran volunteer with Northside Volunteer Fire Department.

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, Military and Veterans, News, Public safety

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