It’s been 18 years, and the nation still remembers and still mourns.

In a brutal attack masterminded by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, 19 men hijacked four commercial airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, and turned them on American buildings. In the greatest act of terrorism ever committed on American soil, the hijackers left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York City, at the Pentagon and in a field near Shanksville, Pa.

The tragedy also injured an additional 6,000 others and caused almost $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage.

“Life as we knew it changed forever on that day,” said Stafford Supervisor Gary Snellings, who led the county’s annual 9/11 memorial service Tuesday morning at Stafford’s Government Center. “But the good news is—as it always happens—good triumphed over evil, and it always will.”

In memory of those who died, Stafford Sheriff David Decatur and Fire Chief Joseph Cardello laid a wreath next to the county’s 9/11 memorial plaque.

Among those killed 18 years ago were 412 New York City emergency responders, including firefighters, a chaplain, paramedics, police officers and emergency medical technicians.

“It’s a huge day for firefighters,” said Cardello. “We had such heroic acts in New York City, in Arlington, in Shanksville. It’s not only about the firefighters, there were so many heroes that day.”

“The challenge going forward is we can’t forget the sacrifices they made and their families,” he added.

Firefighters have traditionally used bells to signal emergencies or the safe return of a fire company to the station after an alarm. They also use bells to honor, recognize and pay tribute to those lost in the line of duty.

During Tuesday’s memorial service, just prior to taps being played, Master Technician Denny Kelly of the Stafford Fire and Rescue Department tolled a chrome-plated bell in memory of the fallen first responders.

“We lost a lot of great men for a stupid act, and we continue to lose a lot of great men,” said James Fry of Stafford.

Fry, a firearms manufacturing contractor, had an appointment with the New York City Police Department on Sept. 11, 2001. He should have been at the World Trade Center that day, but had to cancel his trip due to hospitalization in Fredericksburg for pneumonia three days before the attack.

As Fry was recovering from his illness at the hospital, he looked at the television and saw the first airplane hit the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m.

“I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a sick show,” said Fry.

Snellings said, “Years from now, if our children or grandchildren ask us to recall where we were on Sept. 11, 2001, I can assure you, you will have total recall.”

“God gave us that ability for two reasons,” he continued. “No. 1, so that we would never forget those who died in these tragedies, and No. 2, so that we continue to work and be vigilant to make sure it never happens again.”

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