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First responders fed as way to thank them for service
Pembroke feeds first responders
Tommy Flanders, Genna Squire, James Thigpen and Doug DeLoach serve plates of barbecue were among those who served approximately 80-100 meals on Monday. Photos by Jeff Whitten.

There wasn’t much ceremony Monday as first responders trickled over to Flanders Powell Funeral Home.

Instead they were served plates of barbecue and sides, then ate at picnic tables or took the meals with them back to their firetrucks or ambulances or patrol cars or desks.

It was the latest installment in a 9/11 event so low key no one there is sure when the funeral home began feeding first responders in memory of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that killed some 3,000 people Some at Monday’s lunch say it started more than a decade ago, but they’re not certain of that.

“I’ve been coming down and doing the chaplain’s part for a number of years, but I’m not sure how long it’s been going on” said Jesse France, a retired Army NCO who serves as a chaplain with the Pembroke Police Department Auxiliary and as a funeral attendant for Flanders and Powell. “I do know it’s a good thing and I know it’s appreciated.”

The lack of formality is by design, according to funeral home owner Tommy Flanders, who serves as a deputy county coroner and started the event as a way to honor the first responders he and Flanders Powell administrative manager Audie Powell, a Marine Corps veteran who is also a deputy coroner, work closely with.

Rather than turning it into a full blown observance ceremony with somber speeches, it’s goal it to put those being saluted at ease.

“It’s about them being comfortable and just getting a little bit of time during their day to relax and be amongst themselves and have a meal,” he said. “That’s the reason it’s done this way, without ceremony. It’s a chance for us to thank them for what they do for all of us, and it gives them a chance for some fellowship with their fellow first responders.”

And as time passes, taking time to remember increases in importance, Flanders said.

“I also think the farther away we get from what happened on 9/11, the more important it is that we take the time to remember it,” he said.

Among on-duty Bryan County fire fighters who stopped by to get plates and go were Amber Oliver, 20, and Jeremy Foster, 23. Both are too young to have first-hand memories of the day, but they appreciate the importance of the day and the kindness of people who take the time to thank them. Both said they chose firefighting as a way to serve a greater good.

“I wanted a job where I can go home feeling like I actually served a purpose,” said Oliver, who is only six months out of recruit training and still working on getting her EMT certification. “I like helping people on their worst day, and I want to make it better for them if I possibly can.”

Foster was “working basic jobs but nothing that felt like it had a meaning behind it. Then I met a couple of firefighters, and every single firefighter I talked to said it was the best job in the world,” he said. “It is. It feels like you’re doing something with meaning, and you’re helping the community. The biggest reward you get from it is knowing you are doing something good for other people.”

Both Foster and Oliver thanked those who fed them Monday.

“I never realized how much people loved first responders until I became one,” Foster said. “I think it’s awesome how people in communities like Pembroke remember what first responders have done for their community, and it shows how much the community does for us.”

Bryan County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Larry Jacobs and his wife, Lynn, were among those who stayed to eat. Both remember where they were 22 years ago when the attacks occurred. Jacobs, a parachute rigger who retired from the Army n 1992, was working for BCSO.

“I was walking down the hallway in the court house building and somebody yelled at me as I walked by a door, ‘come here and look at this’ and they pointed to the TV,” he said. “And about that time one of the towers hit the ground. That was about 8:30.”

Jacobs said State Court was in session, and “that morning I was going up (to the jail) to get somebody for a courtroom appearance, so after a few minutes I went to get him. And then I came back a little bit later and saw on TV the other one had fallen down. It’s one of those things you don’t forget what you were doing or where you were at.”

Lynn Jacobs said she was working in the office at the old Bryan County Elementary School when it happened.

“A parent came in to pick up a child and told us what was happening, and we immediately went to the media center and turned on the TVs,” she said. “And that’s what I did for the rest of the day. Those of us who could stayed glued to the TV.”

Larry Jacobs said the attacks on 9/11 sent cold chills up his spine.

“It’s something you don’t ever want to happen again,” he said. “You have to be vigilant.”

The attacks and their aftermath again brought home the cost of living in a free country, Jacobs added.

“It’s the price you pay for where you live and the freedom you enjoy,” he said. “And some people pay more of a price than others, but that’s what it costs to be free.”

The lunch is a reminder some are still grateful for those sacrifices, Lynn Jacobs said.

“They (at the funeral home) are wonderful people,” she said. “It is appreciated, to say the least.”

France, who retired from the Army in 1994, was working at Owens Supply on 9/11. Like many, he watched on television from work.

“We watched TV all day, and it was just disbelief and shock” he said, adding that the “one positive thing about it in all the tragedy was that it was a point where we came together and was America again as I remembered it when I as a soldier. There as a cohesiveness we felt then that is not there now. I don’t know how we lost it ... but for a while there we were all on the same team.”

Pembroke feeds first responders
Bryan County Fire and Emergency Services Firefighters Amber Oliver and Jeremy Fleming
Pembroke feeds first responders
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