The old man used a walker to make his way out of the Emeritus at Spring Arbor assisted living community in Rock Hill. The 86-year-old Army veteran grew up on a two-horse farm in Chester and had to quit school in the seventh grade to work.
He knows the poem written by his daughter by heart, so doesn’t need a piece of paper. The subject is Sept. 11, the day in 2001 when almost 3,000 people died in the worst terrorist attacks in American history.
So Cecil Lathan stood there Wednesday morning, American flag flying overhead, and recited the poem that talks about why the day matters. He stopped in the middle, for a second, because all those people died.
“We never, ever should forget that day,” Lathan said. “This country needs to remember. Every one of those people, we should remember them and honor them on 9/11.”
Those people include Peter Vega.
About 3 miles from where Lathan read his daughter’s poem, Ira and Maureen Rosenberg fielded phone calls. Outside their home sits the old Buick that their son drove. Inside are the photos and mementos and tributes.
Peter Vega was a New York City firefighter on Sept. 11, 2001, when he and his crew rushed to the scene of the World Trade Center towers after they were hit by the hijacked airplanes. Vega rushed in to fight the fire and save people, and he surely saved many – but he never rushed out.
“My son,” said Maureen Rosenberg.
The Rosenbergs talk about it when they have to, but not willingly and not often.
Losing a son never goes away. Losing a son on 9/11 means sharing that pain with the world.
Ira Rosenberg recalled wearing a FDNY shirt a few days ago. A guy saw it and said, “You know somebody there?”
Rosenberg said, softly, “I knew the best.”
All those who died, he said, his son among them, were the best.
A few miles north at the Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Fort Mill, most days you’ll find a gray-haired man named Alberto Santoro. The immigrant from Argentina came to the United States when his son, Mario, was tiny. Mario Santoro grew into a man and became a New York City paramedic with plans to go to medical school.
Mario Santoro rushed to the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, even though he was off duty. He pulled people out, twice. He went in a third time, and the first tower fell and Mario Santoro died – a tiny child he was trying to save cradled in his arms.
Out at the York County Fire Training Center rests a monument of three black granite slabs. One of the slabs honors the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11. Peter Vega is one of them.
Another slab honors others from police, emergency services and civilians who died. Mario Santoro is one of them.
Atop the three slabs is a 2-ton steel beam from the World Trade Center itself. It still has the iron and concrete on it from the rubble. Volunteer firefighter Bob Davenport drove all the way to New York and back three years ago to bring the beam here for the monument.
On Thursday, Davenport and many other volunteer firefighters will gather a few minutes after 8 a.m.
“We honor the heroes every year on 9/11 – and always will,” said Davenport, who is also a York County magistrate judge.
In Rock Hill, Betty Farrington prepared Wednesday for the 9/11 anniversary, as her late husband had done faithfully for the last 12 years of his life.
Leonard Farrington, a World War II Navy veteran, went out to the Sutton Road bridge over Interstate 77 on the day of the attacks in 2001 and waved his American flag to show that terrorists do not beat America. To honor the dead. He was so tired, he almost passed out on the bridge – but that tough old patriot did not fall.
Farrington waved his flag every year afterward, and in recent years other patriotic groups joined in to honor what Farrington started. His tribute became known across the state and nation and last year, after Farrington died at age 89, the state named the bridge “The Patriot Leonard A. Farrington 9/11 Memorial Bridge.”
“I will be there to wave our flag that honors all who gave to this great country on that terrible day in 2001,” Betty Farrington said.
Back at the assisted living center, employees talked about 9/11 and honoring those who were killed every anniversary. The older residents talked about it. Cecil Lathan talked about it. Everybody talked about it, and all will honor Peter Vega and Mario Santoro.
“God bless all of them,” Lathan said, “and God bless America.”