Seventeen years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, America changed forever.

On Tuesday, the Jackson County community gathered at the courthouse lawn in Ripley for a memorial service in honor of Patriot Day.

In the worst act of terrorism ever perpetrated on American soil, terrorists flew two airliners into the World Trade Center towers, causing three buildings to collapse, and one plane into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth hijacked airliner, believed to be headed for either the Capital or the White House crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers fought with the hijackers.

The attacks caused the deaths of 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 others.

Director of Jackson County Emergency Medical Services Steve McClure was the training and safety officers at the Charleston Fire Department on Sept. 11, 2001. He was getting ready to conduct a training exercise when he found out about the attacks.

When he first heard the news, before the reports were clear that airliners were striking the buildings, McClure said he thought it would end up being a wayward Cessna that had struck the tower on accident.

“I don’t think any of us knew the devastation that was about to unfold,” he said.

As the reports became clearer, McClure said he experienced feelings he never thought possible.

“It was the first time in my life that I wanted to just reach out and grab my family. And I couldn’t,” he said.

Patriot Day is a time to remember all of the victims of the attacks and the strength the country showed in the days after, McClure said. It’s also a time to remember the emergency responders who lost their lives saving people.

“They were running into buildings everyone was running out of,” he said.

County Commissioner Mike Randolph said the years have not faded the impact of the events of that day. The country has learned many lessons and at a great cost.

“We have to maintain our vigilance and try to maintain a safe environment for our people. That’s where I’m coming from,” he said.

Jackson County EMS paramedic Troy Bain was on his way home from work after a 24-hour shift when he heard the news and began listening to the events unfold on the radio. He got home in time to be with his wife and the couple watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

“I just couldn’t believe what was happening. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. I just thought, what would it take to just make this stop, to make everything go away,” he said.

Marsha NeeSmith is a volunteer firefighter at Ripley Station 30 and is a nurse in the emergency room at Jackson General Hospital. She was at her father’s house in Georgia when she heard about the attacks.

“It was just overwhelmingly devastating,” she said.

Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader was principal at Fairplain Elementary on Sept. 11, 2001. She said she remembers the impact it had on the school children at the time.

“It was on every television. Of course, we didn’t watch much T.V., but my teachers wanted to see it. And the one thing I remember was my little kindergartners thought that every time they played it over, it was happening again,” Rader said.

“I’ll never forget that,” she said.

And the purpose of ceremonies each year isn’t to open those old wounds, she said. It’s to keep a promise the country made that day that “We will never forget.”