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VFW MEMORIAL DEDICATED TO SEPT. 11 VICTIMS

A collaborative effort creates a memorial garden a chaplain prays becomes "holy ground."

In a solemn ceremony Friday, firefighters, law enforcement members, military veterans and clergy dedicated a memorial garden at VFW Post 10209 to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Speaker after speaker remarked on the awesome loss of 2,974 lives in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania while praising the dedication and selflessness of responders and caregivers in the aftermath.

They also noted the bringing together of U.S. citizens in a common dedication to ward off terrorism.

The ceremony attracted a crowd estimated at 500, many resplendent in firefighter dress blue uniforms, crisp livery attire of veterans organizations, T-shirts emblazoned with insignia of the fire and police departments of New York City, other shirts proclaiming, "Gone but Not Forgotten." Other attendees showed their support by wearing garments in red, white and blue.

They began arriving by 8 a.m. for the 9:40 a.m. ceremony, scheduled to mark times of the fateful morning attacks.

They streamed in somber groups through the memorial garden, which contains a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, a roof tile salvaged from the Pentagon, an urn of earth from the Shanksville, Pa., site where airline passengers overcame terrorists targeting the Capitol and brought down the aircraft, at their own loss of life, and a naval shell from the USS Cole.

The memorial is paved with stones bearing inscriptions of names of firefighters lost.

"Our main objective is to have the names of everybody who lost their lives (engraved) on a paver," said Joseph Holland of Spring Hill, a retired New York firefighter whose son, Joey, a then 32-year-old commodities trader, was killed in the Trade Center's north tower destruction.

"Joe Holland was the major force behind this," said Lt. Nick Scunziano, retired from the Fire Department of New York, who led the ceremony.

Holland said he broached the idea of a memorial some four years ago to Jim O'Brien, then commander of VFW Post 10209. O'Brien offered space on a site where the post would build a new home on what was to become Edward R. Noll Drive off Anderson Snow Road.

The 32 members of local NYC Retired Firefighters Chapter 343 asked local contractors, landscapers and suppliers to support the cause. Response by such donors resulted in little cost for the memorial, Holland said. The retirees volunteered their labor.

On Friday, Holland said, "I feel great. It finally came together." But as he carried a wreath, given by his unit to the memorial, he was grim-faced and tight-jawed.

At the dedication, chaplain Jack Martin of Chapter 343 prayed, "May this be holy ground."

Added deacon Ed Smith of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, "We dedicate this as a sign of hope." He said of 9/11, "This was one of the worst days in American history. ... It was also a day of the bravest acts of heroism."

While Americans focused outrage on the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Scunziano emphasized, "Flight 93 was a pure act of heroism," referring to the passenger-launched confrontation with the terrorists that forced the hijackers to crash the plane.

Joy Hampton, standing in for U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, said, "The terrorists forgot the resilience of the American people. (The attacks) did not dim our spirit but enhanced it."

Hernando County Commissioner Rose Rocco entered a proclamation into the record, noting "valiant heroism" of firefighters, emergency medical personnel and others, whose efforts following the attacks sparked "a spirit of national pride."

Kevin Cameron, president of the retired firefighters chapter, said his group will send letters soon to the Hernando County School District and Pasco-Hernando Community College, asking that they put the memorial garden at the VFW on their visitation sites for American history classes.

Beth Gray can be reached at graybethn@earthlink.net.

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