Monetta, New Holland firemen offer 9/11 reminder from perch above I-20

Sep. 11—NEW HOLLAND — Local firemen and some like-minded neighbors had a prime perch for a patriotic presentation Sept. 11, flying U.S. flags and encouraging passersby on I-20 to remember the terrorist attacks of 22 years earlier and the hundreds of emergency responders who died in the immediate aftermath.

Dennis Jackson, chief of the New Holland Volunteer Fire Department, helped lead the effort and noted that it dates back to 2002, all centered in a rural area familiar to some residents of Wagener, Batesburg and Monetta, near the border between Aiken and Lexington counties. High-speed traffic was about 10 yards below, on I-20, and slower traffic, on S.C. 39, was a couple of yards away on the overpass, with some travelers stopping for a quick face-to-face visit with the flag-waving group.

"My department members take honor in being able to participate in this each year," he wrote, noting that the sun-drenched crew, with 15 members in all, included seven representatives of his department as well as two from Monetta's fire department and five representatives of a new business, the New Holland Acres Event Center.

"It's special every year to help remind folks we swore ... we would never forget. This is a way to remind folks of our oath. Hopefully as they pass by they will also, and share this with others so we can all remember our promise."

The chief and his group had fire trucks a few steps away, some with lights flashing, and stood on both edges of S.C. 39 where the highway passes above I-20, at Exit 33. He noted that the red, white and blue demonstration is known as "33 for 343," with the first number representing the exit and the second number standing for the number of firemen who died on that day.

Hundreds of travelers responded with a horn honk, a siren blast or a wave or thumbs-up during the course of the display, which ran for almost two hours. Fireman gathered at about 8:30 a.m. and had their flags and fire trucks in place by 8:46 a.m., marking the minute when the World Trade Center was struck by the first of four hijacked commercial airliners that would hit in the eastern U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

Jackson's group disbanded at about 10:28 a.m., reflecting the collapse of the first World Trade Center building to be hit (the other had already been struck and fallen). During the chaos in Manhattan, another hijacked plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in a field in rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania, after passengers on that plane rose against the hijackers and tried to regain control of the plane.

The group gathered at Exit 33 had to explain its rationale to some passers-by , noting that the display was as a reminder of the 2001 atrocities.

Fireman and emergency medical responder Rich Burke, with the New Holland group, credited Jackson with doing "a fabulous job" of recruiting for the department and gathering support for the annual display.

"For a volunteer fire department, it's unheard of," he said.