It has been 18 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the pain and grief is still fresh in the hearts of East Texans and the nation.

9/11 Prayer CeremonyEmergency services personnel and community members gathered in downtown Marshall’s Telegraph Park on Wednesday to remember the fallen heroes of Sept. 11, 2001 during the annual 9/11 Prayer ceremony.

Marshall Police Chief Cliff Carruth offered three points encouraging guests to always remember and honor those who lost their lives, to remain vigilant and to stay united.

“We don’t want to wait until a tragedy strikes to unite again,” Carruth said about the unity that took place after 9/11.

Harrison County Sheriff Tom McCool said after 18 years it’s easy to be weary of the war that the U.S. is involved in against terrorists.

“Do not become weary but become strengthened by the challenges we face,” McCool said.

Waskom Police Chief Westy Meisenheimer encouraged guests to never forget the sacrifices that first responders and their families face, both on 9/11 and on a daily basis.

9/11 Memorial Stair Climb

Dozens of East Texas first responders on Wednesday finished the climb for their fellow first responders who died trying to save victims in New York City’s Twin Towers during the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

First responders from Harrison, Marion, Panola, Upshur and Gregg counties teamed up to climb 110 floors of stairs at East Texas Baptist University’s Marshall Grand on Wednesday in honor of the 9/11 first responders who attempted to reach the top of the 110 floors tall Twin Towers. The highest floor any first responders made it to on 9/11 was the 78th floor.

Climbers on Wednesday donned full and partial gear, despite the blazing heat, so they could honor their fellow brothers and sisters of 9/11, including the 343 firefighters, 60 law enforcement officers and eight EMTs who sacrificed their lives on that day 18 years ago.

“We have dozens that volunteered to climb today, from firefighters, police, EMTs, highway patrol, a constable and a dispatcher,” co-organizer and city of Marshall Support Services Superintendent Randy Pritchard said on Wednesday. “The climb they’re doing today, despite the Texas heat, is actually not as hard as what the 9/11 first responders did on that day, going up 78 floors non-stop in full gear.”

The first responders who volunteered to climb on Wednesday ranged from seasoned veterans, to those barely old enough to remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was living in Colorado and I had my alarm set to wake me up to the radio,” Marshall Firefighter Brandon Mathis said Wednesday of his memories on 9/11. “I heard them talking about the plane hitting the first tower so I got up and went in to the main house and watched live on TV as the plane hit the second tower and your heart just sinks. You realize at that point it’s no accident.”

Harleton Volunteer Firefighter Wesley Benton said he was five during 9/11 but he remembers his father and his friends speaking of the events.

“Three of my dad’s friends left to New York to apply to become NY firefighters to help replace the shortage after the 343 deaths,” Benton said. “I had always admired firefighters and police as a kid and loved the big, red firetruck and when 9/11 happened, it inspired me to want to become a firefighter.”

Benton had his challenges in becoming a firefighter and first had to learn American Sign Language but now serves as the only deaf firefighter on the Harleton Volunteer Fire Department.

Mims Volunteer Firefighter Katiland Gray said she did the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb last year and couldn’t make it there this year because she had to work, so she was thrilled when she saw Marshall was hosting one for the first time.

“This one is much more of a challenge,” Gray said, who climbed Wednesday in her firefighting and EMS gear. “This is the hardest memorial climb I’ve ever done

Gray said she wanted to climb again this year in remembrance of her fellow first responders.

“I watched the towers fall as a kid and it inspired me to become a firefighter,” Gray, a single mom of three said. “Firefighting, first responders, it’s a brotherhood. Those are your brothers and sisters out there when you’re responding and serving. I do this climb to serve their memory and so the world will not forget what they sacrificed on 9/11 but this is what first responders everywhere do every single day. We go out there everyday, hell or high water and do this every time we are called upon.”

Mathis and the other first responder climbers Wednesday were in awe of their brothers and sisters and what they accomplished on 9/11, not only making up the 78 floors in full gear while everyone was fleeing the building, but also keeping cool heads to rescue those in need despite the danger.

“I really don’t see how they did it,” he said of responders.

“It had to have been pure adrenaline,” Mathis said. “When you’re responding to a call, the adrenaline kicks in and you have to put your personal needs aside. I feel I owe this climb to them, to the brotherhood, to honor them and not forget — they gave up everything.”

ETBU 9/11 Memorial Chapel Service

ETBU also held a special memorial presentation during the university’s chapel service on Wednesday to honor those who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Before the memorial stair climb, ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn gave the benediction at the annual 9/11 community prayer service.

where he prayed for healing for the families and the nation.

“Still today we mourn the tragedy that struck our country 18 years ago in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania,” Blackburn said. “As the utter shock and horror of that day have subsided, we remember and pay tribute to those who laid down their lives for their brothers and sisters and we pray for their families, who have endured every day without a mother, father, sister, brother, wife, husband, or child. And still, we rejoice in how God united us as a people, who link arm in arm for freedom and democracy.”