GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - On the 18th anniversary of 9/11, people all across the Coast honored local heroes and the memory of those who lost their lives during the 2001 terror attacks.
The Blessing of the Badges and Boots brought spiritual leaders together to honor members of the military, veterans, and first responders with a prayer service.
“We’ve got so many memories as Americans of what happened on that day in 2001," said James Bates with Operation BBQ Relief. “We know that our firefighters, police and other law enforcement took great losses on that day.”
Many say their faith brought them to a career of service.
“I think it’s a calling, something that we just love to do," said Gulfport firefighter Ryker Haselden. "We feel an obligation to our community.”
After the church service, men and women headed to Gulfport Fire Department for a free barbeque courtesy of Operation BBQ Relief, which serves people around the country in the wake of natural disasters and tragedies. Bates said the nationwide effort to feed people is a small way they can bring happiness on an otherwise somber day.
“Good food puts a good smile on your face, right?" said Bates. "We want to make people happy, we want to do that through food and love. That’s why we’re here.”
Those smiles can help shed a little light during dark times and when painful memories, like the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost on 9/11, begin to resurface.
“It was my day off from work, I was out for a three-mile run when I came back and found out what happened,” said veteran and retired firefighter Quin Chastant. "My heart isn’t as heavy as it was 18 years ago. Life is better. I still miss the guys that I knew.”
First responders say they will carry the memories of those who died on 9/11 as they continue to do the job they love.
“You work 24 hours on duty, 48 hours off duty, 365 days a year," said Haselden. "Holidays, birthdays, we’re always ready to serve our community.”
This was the second year Blessings of the Badges and Boots was held at First United Methodist Church. The event is put on by the Coast Ecumenical Fellowship, which is a group of church leaders from various denominations.