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Service focuses on 9/11
Memorial ceremony planned for Friday
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More than 800 miles separate Dawsonville and Manhattan, but that distance wasn't enough to stop the effects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks from reaching the local community.

Several area residents were directly affected by the events of that tragic day nearly 10 years ago.

And even those who weren't say they still remember where they were, what they were doing and what they felt.

Residents will have a chance to remember 9/11 during a memorial service beginning at 9 a.m. Friday at Dawson County Emergency Service Headquarters on Memory Lane.

Emergency services Chief Lanier Swafford said the focus of the ceremony is not on the department or its members.

"This is not about us, we are just honored to be able to host this day of remembrance for the lives lost," Swafford said. "And not just the firefighters or police, but the civilians and everyone who has lost their life since [Sept. 11] in the defense and pursuit of freedom."

Swafford believes that the events of 9/11 are the most important to occur since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

"Sept. 11 changed our nation more than any event in our lifetime," Swafford said. "And we feel that it's important to take a moment and reflect on those events."

The chief also said the impact of that day was felt by everyone, regardless of whether they had a personal connection.

"We're all American, all humans, so we all felt it in one sense or another," Swafford said. "Everyone identifies with some part of those events, we're all connected by them."

Dawson County Library Branch Manager Stacey Leonhardt is from Long Island, N.Y., where the majority of her family still lives and works.

Her brother, Bill Leonhardt, witnessed the event from his office around the corner from ground zero.

"He saw the entire thing. He actually had just taken the subway to under the [World Trade Center] towers and came up to walk to work," Stacey Leonhardt said. "He was OK, but doesn't like to talk about what he saw.

"It was really weird to be up there after it happened. It was a little unnerving to get on a plane to go up there. I remember flying out of LaGuardia [Airport] to come home and seeing how changed the skyline was with the towers gone."

Despite having no personal connection with the events, Dawson County resident Tiffany Fields said she can recall everything clearly.

"We had plans to go out of town that weekend ... We went, but spent the entire weekend inside ... watching what was happening ... they just kept showing it over and over," Fields said.

"I can't even describe how I felt when we saw people jumping out of the buildings. I'll never forget it. It was very emotional ... It still is."

It is because of that emotion that Swafford believes the ceremony is important.

"We feel obligated to make sure we remember these events, that our generation isn't allowed to forget that connection and the feelings we all felt watching it happen," Swafford said.

"We're just operating as facilitator. We want and expect no praise. This is about focusing on everyone involved and everyone that has perished since that time."

The annual ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. with an opening prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Chapter 970 of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

The Dawson County High School Chorus will then sing the national anthem.

New this year to commemorate the 10th anniversary, the department's honor guard will lay a memorial wreath at the base of the flag pole, followed by the playing of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.