The toll of church bells beginning at 8:46 a.m. Wednesday pierced the morning silence hovering over Orangeburg.
A silence thickened with reflection and sorrow in memory of the moment and day, a year ago, when American airliners plunged into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.
A day forever etched into the consciousness of the American people.
As a nation mourned, Orangeburg and The T&D Region, too, shared in the sufferings and sorrows of humanity during a "Spirit of Unity" gathering Wednesday evening at Edisto Memorial Gardens.
Through song, silence and prayer, residents, city and elected officials, along with business and religious leaders, graced the Department of Public Utilities' Centennial Park for a portion of the evening to honor the memory of those who lost their lives from the tragedy a year ago.
In an evening imbued with an aura of solemnity, the Orangeburg-Wilkinson Marching Band, along with a mass community choir representing nine churches, raised melodic sounds. "The Prayer of St. Francis" and "Let There be Peace on Earth" served as touchstone hymns.
"Things have really changed since 9-11 for all of us," Orangeburg Mayor Paul Miller said. "Our freedom of choice has been threatened. The things we take for granted have changed and we will never take these things for granted again."
Though threatened, this freedom, Miller said, has flourished in a wave of patriotic fervor.
"I have seen our citizens bond together more, and I am proud to know and see how each of you has displayed the American flag at home, or business ... with decals on your car or flag flying from your car. We have a great pride in the United States of America."
Pride, along with a united effort, Miller concluded, will mean America's victory and the death of terrorism.
"If we all stick together and work together ... we will endure," Miller said. "God bless America."
Orangeburg County Council Chairman John Rickenbacker said while the terrorist attack damaged a people's physical infrastructure, it's more profound damage was to the country's democratic value system, namely the freedom of speech, religion and right to exercise a vote.
In tribute to those who lost lives, Rickenbacker said the question remaining to be answered by those living is, "Where do we go from here?"
"The best way we can pay tribute to those who died is to protect and preserve America's democracy and legacy of being the greatest country in the world," Rickenbacker said. "Our challenge will be to continue to fight for freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
"Let us pay tribute to those who lost their lives by committing ourselves to working to make America and the world a better place to live ... by uniting behind our president regardless of political affiliation, race, color or creed to come together for the sake of unity in America."
Concluding, Rickenbacker issued all a challenge, that, like the unity torch blazing through the evening air, a fire would blaze in each individual heart.
"We need an internal torch in our hearts that says we will stand tall and rise to the many challenges to make America better ... to build up a better Orangeburg County," Rickenbacker said. "Let us not only come together today in unity, but let us stay together ever day so freedom and faith will last forever."
With flags waving and voices booming, attendees expressed love for country in the singing of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "God Bless America" shortly followed by the flyover of four F-16s.
The young and old in attendance alike ooohed and aaahhed at the display of flying prowess.
Decked out in a patriotic T-shirt silently proclaiming "America The Beautiful," attendee Frances Funchess echoed this sentiment in describing the gathering.
"This was beautiful," Funchess said. "It says a lot for Orangeburg ... to see all these people come out in a show of their respect and tribute."
Firmly gripping an American flag, 8-year-old Cap Thackston said he is proud to show his support for America.
"I am sorry about the people who were killed in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," Thackston said, pointing out his support for those still fighting in Afghanistan.
"I would like to tell them to be safe ... and if it should happen again for them to continue to be proud of their country."
Orangeburg resident Samuel Johnson said the gathering was of the utmost importance in affirming the county's desire to uphold the country's ideals.
"We as Americans need to come together and stick together to uphold our flag and the freedom of our country," Johnson said. "It shows that Orangeburg, as a small town, is still very united."
The unity gathering was one of the many ways Orangeburg and The T&D Region demonstrated its remembrance of those fallen and surviving family members.
Marshall Elementary School students, decked out in red, white and blue, formed a "living flag" in the school's courtyard while St. Paul's United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church simultaneously rang their bells, more than 3,000, times for each life lost in the terrorist attack.
Students at St. Paul's UMC's daycare showed their joy of patriotism by singing songs and the placement of a wreath at the base of the fireman's statue on Middleton Street. Later in the day, the church held a brief service with prayers and music followed by a time of informal prayer and meditation.
Area colleges and universities conducted services as well. Claflin University held memorials throughout the entire day in what was called a "Day of Commemoration," while South Carolina State University held a memorial service at the school's Fine Arts Center recital auditorium.
Prior to Wednesday's court session in Orangeburg, First Baptist Church pastor Jack Anderson offered a prayer for those who lost their lives in the tragedies.
Beyond Orangeburg, activities were also numerous. At Denmark-Olar High School, the school's Junior ROTC Color Guard presented the colors, a collage of readings from our nation's history was offered and awards and funds were presented to the American Red Cross. The town also offered a service at the Jim Harrison Square.
Holly Hill Middle School students dressed in red, white and blue let loose balloons of the same color to culminate the end of a program, while the town of Neeses proudly honored the deceased and survivors with a candlelight vigil.
Inspirational talks from Sen. Brad Hutto and Donna Ott, chief of the Pee Dee Indian Nation of Beaver Creek, were part of the program.