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Durham honors security personnel

Although the Sept. 11 attacks immediately targeted New York and Washington, D.C., their effects were felt profoundly in Durham, and a year after the tragedy the Durham community honored local servicemen and women Wednesday morning.

At a ceremony at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, several local leaders showed their appreciation to firefighters, police officers, paramedics and military personnel who provide security for citizens every day.

"I proclaim Sept. 11 as Patriots' Day in Durham," said Mayor Bill Bell, who called the day an "annual celebration in promotion of global peace, America's perseverance and patriotism."

Country artist Joe Don Silvers performed at the beginning of the ceremony, followed by a procession of honorees who then entered the stadium. They stood in uniform and faced the crowd as the Durham Police Choir sang the national anthem.

Les Dash, former state commander of the American Legion and the master of ceremonies, expressed thanks to the many men and women who work daily to protect American citizens and whose "professions are inherently dangerous."

Those risks are acceptable, however, said Firefighter Union President Kelly McAlexander, who praised emergency workers' willingness to endanger their lives.

"Firefighters sincerely look forward to doing their job and helping citizens," McAlexander said. "Three hundred, forty-three firefighters lost their lives in New York City. It was the greatest display of courage in the fire department service."

Andy Miller, president of the Police Benevolent Association, also praised the servicemen for their bravery.

"As we looked through our pain, we saw one bright ray of sunshine in the response by emergency agencies," Miller said. "In an area where most people were fleeing, firemen, police and port authority officers were racing to their deaths."

MaryAnn Black, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, echoed Miller's praise.

"We saw a new set of heroes emerge. They were our firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement officers," she said. "Our public servants put their lives on the line for us everyday."

The ceremony concluded with a presentation of a flag on behalf of the American Legion to honor the servicemen of the city and county of Durham.

Many Durham residents said they went to the park to honor their military and emergency workers, to show their patriotism and to come together as a community.

"We're proud to be Americans and wanted to pay respect for our country and folks that have served and passed away on Sept. 11," local resident Mike Hight said.

Another resident, Stacy Webb, took her two daughters out of school to see their father, a firefighter, participate in the ceremony. "I felt it was important for them to see what he stands for and to support him," Webb said.

Later in the day, other local residents commemorated the Sept. 11 anniversary with a more intimate interfaith prayer service. About 50 people attended Durham's Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center.

"I came to come and honor people who serve our community," Rashad Rahman said. "Service workers should be honored more often."

While many attendees stressed the importance of service workers, the ceremony also addressed the treatment of Muslims and awareness of Islam, issues that have emerged in the Islamic community after Sept. 11.

Abdur-Raheem Muhammed said while he is aware that negative sentiments have been directed toward many Islamic followers, the strong outside support from the city has carried much more weight.

"Before Sept. 11 we were doing interfaith services," Muhammed said. "But the [Sept. 11] event has brought us new friends."

Melissa Soucy contributed to this story.

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