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Marking the imponderable

At the courthouse and a fire station, county residents gather as the nation mourns and remembers.

By WILL VAN SANT

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 2002


At the courthouse and a fire station, county residents gather as the nation mourns and remembers.

Glenda Rose spent Wednesday morning in tears.

It was, she said, the terrible images of grief and destruction being played on television that kept making her eyes well up.

"I had to get out of the house," she said.

So the 40-year-old Rose, a Long Island native who has lived in the county for 28 years, and her boyfriend, Steve Pulaski, a 43-year-old house framer, joined hundreds on the lawn of the Hernando County Courthouse at noon for what was billed as a Patriot Day Commemoration.

The courthouse event was just one of several throughout the county Wednesday at which people marked the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and remembered those killed.

Many at these events expressed sadness, some bewilderment that a full year had passed, others joy in celebrating the memory of victims while in the company of family, friends and fellow citizens.

Rose, who works for Pizza Hut, and her boyfriend Pulaski listened to speeches by local and state officials, 21 gunshots fired in salute by the county Disabled American Veterans chapter and taps played by a bugler from the Sheriff's Office. They saw honor guards march and American flags fly.

But it was being with others in memorializing the attacks that stopped Rose's tears.

"I feel a lot better," she said. "There's a lot of people around. I guess we are celebrating the lives of those who died."

Lucille Byam and Margaret Clark, both 61 and employees of the Mid-Florida Community Services Head Start Program in Brooksville, went to the courthouse during their lunch break.

"It's a very, very historical moment," Byam said. "Even though we could just take a few minutes from work, we just had to be here."

Looking out at the assembled group of young and old, black and white, Byam voiced a wish on the minds of many: that the spirit of shared reflection would take root in people's daily lives.

"I hope that we continue to embrace each other, not just today but everyday," she said.

The LifeSouth Community Blood Center on Cortez Boulevard began the day with a flag-raising ceremony and performance by the Springstead High School band.

Those who came to donate blood at the center, which primarily serves Hernando County residents, received American flags and were asked to put them in front of the blood bank.

Operations manager Lucy A. Coburn described Wednesday as normal, with no rush to donate. Many of those who did donate were keeping previously scheduled appointments, not coming in to mark Sept. 11.

Still, Coburn said, it was important for the center to do something to recognize the anniversary and the generosity of residents over the years.

"Hernando County has very dedicated donors," Coburn said. "We wanted to do something so that our donors would have a place to come and reflect."

The 343 New York City firefighters killed in the attacks were remembered at a morning ceremony organized by the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue District and held at Fire Station 2.

Rain forced the participants inside the station's truck bay for the event, during which the traditional "Striking of the Four Fives" rang out 10:05 and 10:28 a.m., the times at which the first and second towers fell.

A bell rung in four sets of five strikes was used in 19th century New York to announce the death of a firefighter or noted member of the community.

While the names of the firefighters were read aloud at the event, heads were bowed. One man made the sign of the cross. Firefighters saluted. Another man at the back of the bay started to cry quietly to himself.

Among those gathered were retired New York City police and firefighters. Some had family members who died in the fire and rubble of ground zero.

"I'm very sad," said Bruce Cacioppo, a 50-year old Spring Hill resident and former police officer on Long Island, who said his cousin Nicholas P. Chiofalo, 38, was a firefighter killed in the attacks.

Cacioppo has also given some thought to how the grief brought about by the attacks might, in some measure, be a beneficial, binding force.

"I hope it brings people together permanently," Cacioppo said, "not just once a year."

-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government. He can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansant@sptimes.com.

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