Firefighter ‘was my hero’
Joanne Wilcox’s brother, Ricky, a first responder in New York City, was off duty when the call came that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
But he and his fellow team members, who Wilcox said were getting their physicals that day, didn’t hesitate before running toward the scene — a scene that claimed his life along with those of more than 400 other emergency workers.
“Ricky was, and still is, my hero,” Wilcox said Wednesday in a 9/11 commemoration held at the American Legion Post 382 in Sanford. “He was always larger than life to me.”
After Wilcox spoke and presented a gift to the Legion post — an American flag bearing the names of those killed in the attacks, written in red — Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive was invited to speak. She thanked Wilcox for sharing her brother’s story and also said she gives thanks to first responders everywhere, especially those who gave their lives 12 years ago.
“They saw the need,” Olive said. “They responded, they were courageous, and they left us with a challenge” to always work to help others.
Addressing the Sanford firefighters who were in the audience, along with several dozen older veterans and other community members, Olive thanked them for giving locals comfort about their own safety. And like Wilcox, she ended her speech talking about the American flag.
“When I saw we were flying our flag at half-mast today for Patriot Day, I immediately thought it should be unfurled and flowing majestically,” Olive said. “But we do have to remember the loss.”
American Legion Post Commander Don Causey presented Olive with a commemorative flag to be flown at City Hall to show support for American troops. He also said Patriot Day — now the official name of the Sept. 11 anniversary — should be made a federal holiday, although he urged people to remember whether it’s a holiday or not.
“We have a tendency to become lackadaisical and forget about these things in our daily life,” Causey said, listing off other tragedies like the Oklahoma City bombing and Pearl Harbor. “Please remember all of these [attacks], and all those who died.”
The audience also heard from N.C. National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Maske, who gave a presentation on the duties and capabilities of that force, as well as from Sanford Fire Chief Wayne Barber, who said that some of the first responders who died on 9/11 lost their lives needlessly due to poor communication. With advances in technology, Barber said, that will be less likely in the future.
It was even the case on April 16, 2011, when a deadly tornado struck Lee County, and emergency responders from multiple agencies worked together very well, he added.
Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter, who said his own son is finishing up basic training for the National Guard, encouraged people to remain vigilant.
“I think it’s important for us to remember that we are still at war, and we have enemies who want to cause another 9/11,” Carter said. “... We don’t need to live in fear; [and] we don’t need to be paranoid. But we do need to think of that.”
However, Carter said, his biggest worry now isn’t terrorists but rather drug gangs. He said he’s no policy expert, but if he had the chance, he would boost security at the country’s southern border immediately.
Noting the recent arrest of a Mexican national for allegedly possessing more than $1 million worth of cocaine here in Lee County, Carter said it only takes people carrying drugs, cash or weapons about three days to reach central North Carolina once they cross over the border. But if the federal government can’t or won’t protect the border, he said, he at leasts trusts locals to protect their homes if need be.
“Be prepared,” Carter told the audience.