Rotary Park in downtown Canton was filled with residents and local officials Friday morning as Cherokee County held its annual Patriots Day ceremony to remember those killed in Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, as well as those who served in subsequent military conflicts and were killed in the line of duty.

“We’re gathered here to remember that beautiful blue sky morning that changed the course of our country,” said keynote speaker Dan McNeal, a retired Army sergeant major. “We have a sacred duty to make sure we never forget. We can never forget, we are one nation, one nation under God.”

McNeal found out about the attacks that morning when he had just returned home after dropping his daughter off at preschool and a neighbor told him to turn on the television, he said. In the days following the attack, McNeal said, everyone stood together and united in a way not seen since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, no matter what one’s political affiliation, religion or other beliefs may have been. He also paid tribute to those firefighters and police officers who demonstrated their heroism that morning by running into the burning buildings to try and help those inside escape, even at the cost of their own lives.

“The FDNY had its heart ripped out that day,” McNeal said, reflecting on how 343 firefighters with the agency were killed on Sept. 11.

With some of the ceremony dedicated to remembering first responders, Tim Cavender of Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services paid tribute to Holly Springs Police Officer Joe Burson, who died in the line of duty earlier this year. Cavender said Burson’s name had been added to the memorial in Rotary Park, remembering fallen first responders in Cherokee County.

During the ceremony, the Cherokee Chorale performed “Song for the Unsung Hero,” while the Cherokee High School Band of Warriors played both the “Armed Forces Medley” and “God Bless the USA.” Fire department Lt. Cheri Collett performed “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes after Fire Chief Tim Prather and Sheriff Frank Reynolds placed a wreath at the memorial, followed by one of the Band of Warriors members performing “Taps.”

In addition, County Manager Geoff Morton led everyone in attendance in a moment of silence, while one of the Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services ladder trucks parked on North Main Street and suspended a large American flag from the top of the ladder.

Several during the ceremony recognized Cherokee County Marshal Jamie Gianfala for his work on the ceremony, including getting McNeal as its speaker. Gianfala said after the ceremony it was an easy decision to pick McNeal, but the chief marshal also wanted to give credit to Cherokee County Assistant Fire Chief Eddie Robinson.

“This doesn’t happen without Eddie Robinson,” Gianfala said.

In his closing remarks, Woodstock Police Chief Calvin Moss quoted Thomas Jefferson and his statement that “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

“Let us make good on our promise to never forget,” Moss said.

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