LIVE OAK — Lorena Gardner couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Gardner was lying on her couch with her newborn son Jarrett when the images started popping up of planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I honestly thought it was like a movie,” Gardner said Tuesday while attending the Patriot Day ceremony at the Live Oak Fire Department with her sons, Jason and Jaden, who are 3. “I thought it was a movie.
“I just remember seeing it happen and being flabbergasted at what actually had just taken place.
“I was just shocked.”
Keith Davis was also shocked on that day 18 years ago, spending it just trying to figure out what was going on himself.
Davis, now the Live Oak Police Chief, had just gotten off a night shift with the LOPD and had went to his second job at Suwannee Salvage.
Tearing parts off of cars, Davis said he first heard of the attacks on 98.1-FM while he was working.
“After that, it was just throughout the rest of the day just trying to figure out what was going on,” he said.
What was happening cleared up when the second plane hit the second tower, he said.
“You realized it was not an accident and it was an act of terrorism,” he said.
About 18 months later, Davis was deployed to Iraq with the 269th Engineer Company, the local National Guard unit.
He spent 15 months overseas on that deployment.
“So it had a big impact on me,” Davis said.
It also had a big impact on Andy Townsend, the city’s public works director.
Townsend was in the military at the time, but was at home recovering in Coconut Creek from surgery for a torn rotator cuff when he saw the news on television.
“It was pretty shocking,” Townsend said. “I was a little upset, frustrated. A few days later we got a call from our unit, we got there and talked about what was going on, our status, and then we just had to wait.”
Townsend’s wait also ended with a deployment in 2003.
Sheriff Sam St. John told the approximately 60 people in attendance at the Patriot Day ceremony that he also had just gotten off a night shift on Sept. 11 and went home to sleep. He awoke to the destruction on TV.
“It just devastated me,” he said. “This is a somber day for us. I just appreciate Live Oak remembering all of the 9/11 victims, all the firefighters, all the law enforcement that lost their lives.
“I can’t imagine what they went through that day. I’ve been in law enforcement a long time. Never have I seen anything like that.”
Chad Croft, the chief of the Live Oak Fire Department, said his department, which has hosted the ceremony every year since, will continue to do so. And they will do it for one simple reason: to not forget.
“We’re not going to forget what happened on that day,” he said.
Gardner won’t forget either. And she is determined to help make sure her younger children understand what happened as well.
While waiting for the next air raid siren to sound, signaling the next plane hitting, Gardner said she was searching through the Rivet reading app to try and find a book to help explain the events of 9/11 to her sons.
That devotion is something Davis and Townsend said is necessary.
“I wish we could get more people from the public to join in and learn the history of what went on,” Davis said, adding the annual ceremony is “awesome.”
Townsend added: “It means a great deal that they don’t forget. They need to understand the sacrifices that men and women make for them. They don’t forget those sacrifices.
“I think the new generation coming up, they maybe don’t understand that things aren’t free. There’s always a price to pay. You take advantage of that freedom, but you also need to understand where that freedom came from and why that freedom is there for you.”