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Sister Stations United in Sorrow

Grand Terrace's No. 23 gives comfort and fellowship to members of New York's Engine Co. 23 in a Sept. 11 remembrance event.

September 12, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

New York Fire Department Capt. John Bendick, one of the rescuers called to duty Sept. 11, came to Grand Terrace for comfort and camaraderie Thursday.

The 36-year veteran had never heard of the Inland Empire small town until San Bernardino County Fire Department Station No. 23 "adopted" his unit, FDNY Engine Co. 23 in Manhattan, after it lost six crew members in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

On the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks, more than 100 state firefighters, local dignitaries, schoolchildren and residents in Grand Terrace honored Bendick, his engine company and its fallen heroes: Lt. Charles Garbarini and Firefighters John Marshall, Robert McFadden, James Pappageorge, Hector Tirado and Mark Whitford.

"It's very humbling that California, that this station, is honoring us," a soft-spoken Bendick said before the morning ceremony. "In a few years, I think a lot of people won't remember [Sept. 11] as much. But this gives me hope. These people won't be forgotten."

The memorial was one of many throughout the Inland Empire filled with promises never to forget attacks in New York, at the Pentagon and on a plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, the women and men who have fought here and overseas, and those who have lost loved ones.

During a ceremony in front of the San Bernardino County Government Center, Sheriff Gary Penrod lamented that American "lives have been changed forever."

A large crowd of county workers and others wore memorial T-shirts, brandished remembrance posters and waved flags. Bells tolled, 21 doves symbolizing peace were released and county Assistant Fire Chief Dan Wurl implored resolve: "Let us not forget those who would like to harm this great country of ours."

In Grand Terrace, "Sister Station 23," as firefighters called it, commemorated the day with plaques, prayers and poems. A teenage girl moved uniformed officers to tears with her rendition of "God Bless America."

The San Bernardino County station emulated its New York counterpart by adopting the lion as its mascot. Statues of the animal's head greet visitors to the station. It's emblazoned on a badge-shaped logo on firetrucks.

"We're lucky we don't have a live lion," Capt. John Lansing of Station No. 23 said. "It's our way of paying tribute."

Inside the firehouse, a shadow box paid homage to emergency workers at the World Trade Center.

It contained a piece of marble from the north tower.

Steel from the rubble was melded into a cross. Victims' photographs and names bordered the sides.

Behind the display hung an American flag, its red stripes inscribed with names emergency workers who died that morning, including those from Engine Co. 23.

"There's Hector [Tirado]," Bendick said, pointing to the young man's name.

"He had five children. He adopted his three younger siblings. He was a community mentor. He's the type of fellow who blessed himself [with the sign of the cross]. Hector was an all-around good kid."

Bendick's blue eyes watered.

"Here's Jimmy Pappageorge," he said. "I have high blood pressure. His father had it. He'd always check up on me, made sure I took my medication. He was a good kid."

The Grand Terrace station raised thousands of dollars to defray travel costs for Bendick and more than a dozen family members and firefighters -- some of whom worked non- stop on Sept. 11, and others who replaced Engine Co. 23's victims.

"Firefighters," said John Ocskasy, Bendick's 9-year-old grandson.

"They're our heroes."

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