By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Hundreds gather in Richmond Hill for 9/11 service
The 3rd Id Infantry Division color guard.
The 3rd Id Infantry Division color guard. Photos by Craig Howard.

By Jessica Eturralde, Special to the News

Last Sunday morning, nearly 400 people gathered at J.F. Gregory Park to commemorate the 22nd Anniversary of 9/11.

Volunteers from Bethel Baptist Church had arrived early to set out 400 white folding chairs, which, by 10:45 a.m., were about 80% filled.

To the right of the stage, six members of the 3rd Infantry Division Color Guard waited, poised to present the changing of the colors, while a brass quintet from the 3rd ID band played America the Beautiful.

Bethel’s pastor, Brian Cooper, 46, adjusted his red tie as he prepared to speak to the crowd fanning themselves against the 87-degree morning with paper fans printed to look like American flags.

As the nation reflected on 9/11, The Richmond Hill Remembers event honored those who sacrificed and thanked those serving in Bryan County and the state of Georgia.

But Cooper says he has an additional mission. He claims people are hurting from “personal 9/11s,” and the pastor wants to give the community a message: There is hope.

He opened his message by quoting Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address as California Governor in 1967: “Freedom is a fragile thing, and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction.”

“On 9/11, we saw things happen that we never thought would occur on the land and ground that we call America. On that day, many sacrificed so that we could have what we have,” Cooper said.

He called first responders “the epitome of sacrifice who place themselves in harm’s way to protect others.” Cooper invited the crowd to join him department by department in recognizing local police officers, EMS personnel, firefighters, dispatch workers, and military service members.

The church observed a moment of silence followed by Richmond Hill Fire Department Sergeant McKayla Conner-Wright ringing a bell to represent those who lost their lives to the tragedy on September 11, 2001.

“I say emphatically that I love America. Someone once said, ‘I am American from the top of my head to the sole of my foot,’” said Cooper. “But I also understand that what we enjoy, possess, and have been given does not come without a great cost.”

Standing at the edge of the pavilion and facing south, a member of the 3rd ID quintet played Taps on a silver trumpet as a cyclist on a red bike rode by.

Cooper read from 2 Samuel 1, where David exclaimed, “How the Mighty Have Fallen!” in response to the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan.

He then said construction began on the north and south towers and speculated that when the builders and engineers began construction in 1966, they may have thought the buildings would “stand forever.”

“Yet in 4.9 seconds, the South Tower fell,” he said.

Cooper suggested that every person has their own “9/11,” a day when everything “came crumbling down.”

He called the Richmond Hill Remembers event an opportunity to gather the community.

“It is a wholesome, honest view of what America is—an opportunity to remember.”

For New Yorker turned Richmond Hill resident Paul Schweitzer, the terrorist attacks “still feels like it happened yesterday.”

While Schweitzer has lived all over the country, he formerly lived in White Plains, New York, and used to visit the Twin Towers every summer. He does not attend Bethel but came “to pay his respects.”

Schweitzer said he considered himself a “godly person” and that a church hosting an event for people to remember was “very touching.”

“I love how we had a pastor talking about God and bringing everyone to this ceremony,” he said.

“We got to keep the memory alive.”

As the fastest-growing county in the state prepares for expansion and the arrival of many new faces from across the country, the event also allows reflecting on what makes the community unique.

Over half of the Richmond Hill Police Department are prior military, according to Richmond Hill Police Chief Mitch Shores.

“Richmond Hill—is unique in how much it supports our military and local law enforcement,” he said. Shores said when Cooper shared the idea of hosting an event for the community, he was “all for it.”

Shores recalled the months following the attack and how people across the country united in supporting the nation, and sports fans of other teams wore NYPD hats in solidarity.

“For a while, people set aside their differences. We’ve gotten so far away from that,” he said.

“We spend so much time focusing on our differences and what makes us different, which has not done our country good. If we want a melting pot, we must focus on things that bring us together, a common ground.”

Mayor Russ Carpenter, who closed the event by giving the benediction, said for many years, Richmond Hill has, in one way or another, commemorated 9/11.

Carpenter said events like Richmond Hill Remembers are part of Richmond Hill’s “smalltown makeup.”

“It is in our DNA to honor those who risk their life for us, including those in military service,” he added. “I thank our awesome God for his protection of this city and our country.”

One of Bethel’s pastoral assistants, Tim Patterson, told BCN that the church has received “nothing but positive” feedback on the event.

“The Army band and color guard were very verbal about ‘thank you, yes we will come, yes we will support that.’ It spoke volumes to us, and we were very encouraged,” he said.

While the church hopes to finish expanding its campus to house a new worship center with 450 seating capacity by this November, Bethel still plans to host the remembrance event at J.F. Gregory every year they can.

As for Richmond Hill and Bryan County, Chief Shores has a message: don’t forget why you moved here.

“Everybody hears the statistics on Bryan County being the fastest-growing county in Georgia.

“Our community is like a family. It’s tight-knit, and everyone is welcome to come here and work to keep it that way and strengthen it,” he said. “Events like these — they make us stronger.”

RH 9/11 2023
RH 911 2023
RH 911 2023
RH 911 2023
Sign up for our E-Newsletters