GYMPIE firefighter Rob Frey watched in horror as the September 11 terrorist attacks unfolded nine years ago.
On a day that changed the world, Frey joined millions fixed to their television sets, watching footage of cowardly Islamic extremists slamming hijacked American commercial airliners into New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Another hijacked plane was courageously brought down by its passengers over Pennsylvania before it reached its intended target in Washington.
Moved by the senseless loss of life, Frey felt a strong kinship to the 343 New York firefighters that rushed to the burning Twin Towers in the initial response to the tragedy.
Each year since that fateful day in history the Gympie firefighter has organised a service to honour his New York colleagues who sacrificed their lives to help others.
But in 2010, Frey will be paying his respects on an international level.
The Gympie man is one of two Queenslanders in an Australian team of 16 taking part in a special run across the United States of America to remember the lives lost in the September 11 attacks.
The run is being dubbed the ‘Tour of Duty’ and will traverse Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Arizona, Albuquerque, Oklahoma, Houston, New Orleans, Mississippi, Memphis, Charlottesville, Washington, Baltimore and Pennsylvania before reaching its final destination in New York.
Taking 22 days to complete, the run honours all lives lost from the attacks, including the 343 firefighters who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the quest to help others.
The Tour of Duty run will finish on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, overlooking ground zero where work continues on the One World Trade Centre rebuilding project.
The Mayor of New York and the Chief of the New York Fire Department will be present for the conclusion of the run, and the Australian team intends to present a special portrait to the New York fire commissioner.
Painted by talented Gympie portrait artist Maykayla Smith, the portrait includes images of the lives lost together with symbolic images.
A bound book featuring a letter of support and goodwill from each Australian fireman’s local government mayor forms an important part of the gift.
Frey said taking part in the run was a way to pay his respects to fellow officers.
“I was watching it (the attack) unfold on TV, and it was really hard seeing the death toll rise throughout the day,” he said.
“You know when you are called to duty there is danger.
“When one dies, it’s a tragedy, when it’s that sort of number...”
The run will unfold with three teams of eight to 10 runners, with one runner pounding the road for six hours a day.
The logistics of the Tour of Duty were organised by Los Angeles fire chief Kevin Brayne, and runners will stop at various locations on their way to New York for fundraising and meeting other firefighters.
All firefighters involved in the moving tribute to victims of the September 11 attacks are labelling the run as “a statement of hope for the future of a world consumed by financial gloom and terrorist alerts”.
The run also serves to reflect the better values of humanity, including mateship, camaraderie and self-sacrifice.