NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — Droning bagpipes, an overcast sky and a looming ladder truck accented a special Mass held at Our Lady Star of the Sea to memorialize the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
As fire chief Tom Barstow talked with parish member Ed Vaitis before the service, a man walked into the church. He was in uniform, and the red patch on his sleeve said “NYC Fire Department.”
There in the vestibule the firefighter told his story, one of the thousands about what happened on that day.
Jim Kaminski, a New York City firefighter who recently moved to Pawleys Island, came with many others to hear Father Philip Grant give a homily on the terrorist attacks against America.
At the same time, on a bridge above U.S. 9, Lions Club members waved American flags at passing motorists, who honked their horns in response.
As emergency, police and fire personnel mingled with parish members at the church, Kaminski, 41, explained what Sept. 11, 2001, meant to him. He was there.
“I lost a lot of friends in 9-11,” he said. “I was at the site. I got there about 11 in the morning … after both towers collapsed.”
“When we got there, we grabbed any equipment that we could off of burning fire trucks and walked in there and tried to search around and look for fellow firefighters or civilians … but we were very limited in what we could do because we had no equipment. We couldn’t get any equipment to the scene.”
“It was very hot,” Kaminski recalled. “There were just clouds and clouds of dust. … Depending on which way you were standing and which way the wind was blowing, you could only see (about) 500 feet. There was just total clouds and a dust bowl the whole day.”
He worked through the night, and got home about six the next morning.
He is Catholic, and his faith helped him get through that day.
“It helped me a lot because we just prayed and prayed for the safety of our brothers to return and for the loss of life not to be as great. It helped me a lot to keep the faith and keep working. It gave me energy.”
The Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea was a reminder of that energy.
“I think it’s a wonderful demonstration of the people who are coming together,” Father Grant said.
He said that all those firemen, police, and emergency medical service workers were, and still are, heroes.
“Each fireman who puts on his turnout gear each day he goes to a call, each time a police officer puts his badge on or an EMS crew jumps into a wagon to answer a call, they are making the same commitment that these guys made Sept. 11,” he said. “They were asked to sacrifice their lives. Pray to God that none of you will ever be asked to do that. God bless you all.”