BLUEFIELD — Government officials, civilians, and others, gathered to honor area first responders ahead of the upcoming anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, on Sunday.

Taking place at Bluefield Elks Lodge #269, first responders from Bluefield, W. Va., Bramwell, Greenvalley Glenwood, Bluefield, Va., and more gathered to commemorate their first responder comrades.

“Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives,” Jackie Barlow, of the Bluefield Elks Lodge, said of the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice during the 9/11 attack.

A Lifetime Achievement Award for National and Community Service was awarded to William David Bailey, 6th district vice commander of the American Legion Riley-Vest Post, for going above and beyond in his community. According to Ken Kormendy, the Elks state chairman of the drug awareness program, Bailey has logged upwards of 4,000 hours of volunteer service.

On the topic of 9/11, Bill Verelst, the West Virginia Elks state president, described the shock that all Americans felt on that fateful day. On September 11, 2001, Verelst was an 8th-grade teacher, and the news of the United States being attacked by terrorists was something he couldn’t believe, he said.

“It had been since 1941 since any country had ever dared to hit us, that was when the Japanese sneak attacked us at Pearl Harbor,” Verelst said, about, “We have to do everything in our power to teach our young people.”

Verelst also spoke on the importance of keeping the memory of the tragedy alive and to teach the younger generations. According to him if history is not taught we are, “Doomed to repeat it.”

Though Congresswoman Carolyn Miller was unable to attend the commemorative event, a representative of her office was present to honor the first responders.

Sam Lusk, Miller’s representative, said speaking that Miller, “Lives of many more Americans would’ve been lost,” on 9/11 if not for the heroic actions of first responders. According to Lusk, nearly 3,000 Americans were lost due to the attacks.

A drawing for the Excellence of Duty award resulted in Ron Blackwell of Bramwell Volunteer Fire Department winning the title and $1,000.

Keynote speaker of the event, Justice Evan Jenkins of West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, spoke on the ever-present respect that first responders deserve. During his speech, Jenkins spoke on the New York City first responder that had a gallon of milk poured over them by a civilian, and how he believes first responders do not deserve this treatment.

“I know you join me in understanding that it simply makes our blood boil. Our country is divided, there’s no question about it. We think about 9/11 now, 18 years ago and the lives lost,” Jenkins said, “The issue is we can bridge this divide in one of two ways.”

According to Jenkins the two ways to unite Americans is to stand up against those who come against us and to come together to recognize and honor first responders.

“Tell me who else other than first responders and our military who get up every day, put on a uniform and are willing to save our lives and put theirs at risk, to run towards the bullets, to run into the burning house, and putting others before themselves,” Jenkins said.

Contact Emily D. Coppola at ecoppola@bdtonline.com

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