Hillsville’s 9/11 Ceremony on Sunday used the stories of four victims to underscore citizens will at some point be a student, a teacher or a leader and choose which direction they will go.
The ceremony was hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Grover King Post 1115. Agencies represented at the annual remembrance event included the Hillsville Fire Department Honor Guard, Hillsville Police Department, Carroll County Sheriff’s Department, Hillsville Fire Department (HFD) and the Galax Fire Department.
Gary Bergeron of the Baywood Rescue Squad, Independence Fire Department and Hillsville Fire Department Honor Guard was the bagpiper for the ceremony. VFW Member Frank Sloop was the bugler and Anthony Marshall served as the bell ringer marking the hour of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Division 4 Chief for Fire Programs Michael Parris was the featured speaker at a breakfast for participants which followed the ceremony.
“Honestly, I don’t think there is a five-minute or 30-minute speech to sum up what went on that day (on 9/11) and how it affected people,” said Parris. “I’ve chosen four stories of four individuals who knew what it is to be a fireman. Everyone in this room knows the nature of the work is that none can escape fate regardless. You all (first responders) know you leave home each morning knowing you may not come back.” Parris chose Michael Cammarata, Patrick “Paddy” Brown, Michael Judge and Peter Ganci, Jr.
Parris said Cammarata was a gifted athlete as a child and wanted to be a hockey player, talents which later earned a scholarship for him. Instead, the young Cammarata chose to follow in the footsteps of an uncle who was a 32-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. (Cammarata’s desire to wear the leather fire fighters helmet worn by his uncle was well known.) He was 11 weeks away for graduation from the City’s Fire Department Academy and was assigned to Ladder (Company) 11, which was among those answering the emergency call that day.
Parris told participants Cammarata called his family on the way to the scene. His last recorded words were “A plane has hit the World Trade Center. I’m fine.” The Department’s standard procedure for its personnel calls for a vial of blood to be drawn and stored from each fire fighter. That 3 milliliter sample was all the remains Cammarata’s family had to bury to honor him. (One milliliter is roughly a fifth of a teaspoon.)
Chaplain Father Michael Judge was the next story Parris told. Noting a man of God had his hands full being assigned to any fire fighter, he said Judge’s death certificate number was “001.” Parris said this was not because Judge was the first to die in the attacks. His remains were the first to make it to the medical examiner. The photo of Judge’s body being carried out by two fire fighters, two policemen and a civilian later joined the collection of iconic pictures from the tragedy. Parris noted the priest’s last reported words as debris tore through the building around them were “Jesus please end this right now. God. End this for us.”
“Pete (Ganci) was on jury duty when work reached him about what was going on at the towers,” said Parris. “He left, telling them to arrest him if they had to. In ten minutes he was there setting up a communication post on a ramp at the North Tower. He then moved this to the South Tower Basement for better communications. When the South Tower collapsed he and two others crawled out. His first words were ‘we need to set up another command post. My men need me.” Ganci was later ordered by the mayor and other officials to a different location. Ganci’s answer to them was “I’m not leaving my men.”
Parris said he’d chosen Judge’s story because of the preacher’s example of guidance and wisdom. Cammarata represented the student who like all fire fighters, “learns from the old guys,” those who come before us.
He said Patrick Brown instilled in every recruit the attitude “they didn’t know the meaning of the word no.” He said Brown was the teacher, the fire captain everyone wanted to be assigned to because of his grit and determination to succeed at any task assigned him. Parris said Ganci represented the type of leader who leads from the front, which speaks to honor and integrity.
“He put no more value on his life than that of his other men,” said Parris. “As we move forward we will each either be a student, a teacher or a leader. You choose the direction you’ll go in.”
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on [email protected]