McDuffie County paused to remember the fallen, to thank those who continue the struggle and to heal a nation's wounds.
As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States was observed nationwide, the Thomson area added tributes at a fire station, a church, schools and the Belle Meade Hunt Club.
An event Sunday evening at First Baptist Church of Thomson was described as the community celebration. Pastors from four churches participated.
Belle Meade held the first observance Sept. 8, inviting police and firefighters to an evening of food and recognition. The club distributed about two dozen plaques.
Thomson Elementary School welcomed police and fire personnel, Marines, Army, paramedics and more early Friday. Visitors were interviewed by student journalists on the morning television program.
Police and firefighters thanked contributors for making another Friday event possible. About 150 people enjoyed lunch at the Thomson Fire Department's main station. Police and fire personnel did the cooking and joined in the celebration.
On Monday, Thomson-McDuffie Middle School welcomed emergency workers to lunch.
Many of those same visitors were seen Sunday evening celebration. A Community Service of Prayer and Remembrance at First Baptist Church allowed 319 people to sing and to pray.
Dr. Leonard L. Dupree of First Baptist reminded the audience that God was not responsible for the horrors of that day. "He is the god of love, the god of light, and he forbids murder," Dupree said.
Speakers representing seven first-response agencies accepted thanks and offered reminders that the danger has not ended. Pastors asked God to heal the people. Youth and adults offered praise in music.
The Thomson High School brass ensemble, the high school chorus and the community mass choir presented musical messages. The Thomson High School Navy Junior ROTC presented and retired the colors.
Three representatives of the Thomson Fire Department gave a ceremony called "the final call," in which a bell is struck five times in honor of fallen firefighters.
"This is what we do. This is the profession we have chosen," said Johnny Crawley, deputy chief of the Thomson Fire Department.
McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshal said the attacks were a reminder of the need for solidarity and vigilance. "I submit to you that we need one another," he said. "There's no way to make it without that."
First Baptist Church members said they gathered to pray exactly 10 years earlier, the evening of the terror attacks.
Dupree said Christians should put their trust in God, and not in men.
Thomson's deputy fire chief, Johnny Crawley, said he first visited the site of the World Trade Centers destruction in February, 2002, when the Georgia State Firefighters Association presented more than $1 million for those affected by the attacks there. He said he later returned with his family. "I found myself again peering out on the 16 acres that make up Ground Zero," he said. He said he felt anger, frustration and confusion.
"Why would someone go to the extremes that they try so hard to tear apart a nation that has tried so hard to help other nations succeed?" Crawley asked.
"To not forget is to honor those many lives that were lost," Crawley continued.
"We will never tarnish the badge, the uniform or the image of their respective professions," he said. "Yes, America got bruises that day but we didn't break."
Crawley said firefighters continue to take risks, and to die. He said 70 U.S. firefighters were killed on duty in the last year.
"This day should never be about hate," he concluded. "It should be about never forgetting."
McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Service Chief Bruce Tanner remembered that late-summer day that changed Americans' perceptions of their world. "When that second plane hit the South Tower we all knew that we were under attack," he said.
He Rev. Rodney Lockett of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, in prayer, asked God to provide equipment and training for firefighters, and to protect emergency personnel. "Hold their hands and guide them as they go about their duties," he prayed.
Tim Edwards, the director of the McDuffie County EMS, said, "Of course all public service agencies have changed since 9/11, there's no doubt about that. But one thing has not changed, caring for sick and injured, even if it means risk."
The Rev. Mark Bowers, the First Baptist music minister, prayed for healing from "the great physician." He asked that knowledge and he love of Christ continue to combat the physical and emotional damage from a decade ago.
Thomson Police Chief Joe Nelson, said he was in a Washington, Ga., courtroom the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He said the court went into recess and people adjourned to a break room. People were crying. The news was on TV. "When I first saw the devastation and destruction, I thought I was looking at some kind of movie," he said.
He asked the audience to remember that Americans stand for something. "We are Americans," he said. "We are strong. And we will survive."
The Rev. Butch Baston thanked God "for the many vocations that you've created, the callings that you've put on people's hearts."
"We know, Lord, that we project that strong image, but we know that we are vulnerable."
He prayed that Americans in every uniform find peace and wisdom. "Be with them and grant them peace and wisdom," he prayed."Be with these men and women, keep them safe, bring them back home today to their families."
First Sgt. Billy Turman of the Thomson armory of the National Guard, said ""911 changed everything." He said the Guard that had been dealing with problems such as floods then trained as first-responders, and then changed their mission once again.
"Without our family members standing by us, we couldn't do the things we do," he said.
"Thomson, you mean the world to us."
He said terrorists adapt. "As we try to adapt to them, they are more advanced than we ever think they are," he said. He said Guardsmen are proud to be doing their job. "We're proud to be Americans," he said.
The Rev. John Cook of Thomson Presbyterian Church cited Bible passages about military conflicts. "So we come to you as a God who knows what it is to fight on behalf of your people," he prayed.
"We think tonight of those who are deployed," he said. "We pray for those who are in combat, that you could grant them courage, wisdom and quick wit."
The Rev. David Lambert paid tribute to the fallen. "We know that you keep your promises, and so we stand here tonight, united in hope," he said. "The hope we place in you is secure."
Among the hundreds in the audience Sunday was the Jenkins family.
Amy Jenkins said she was pregnant with the couple's first child when the terrorist attacks took place 10 years ago. "And we came here for a service that night," she said.
"It was a time that we all felt closer to God."