9-11 Firefighter: Military The 'Real Heroes'

Moorseville Tribune - September 15, 2009

by Jim McNally

At Ground Zero.

On Sept. 11, 2001.

Breathing-in-dust, hardly-sleeping-for-days there.

When trying to describe the experience, the former Fire Department of New York City firefighter reaches for the words but can't quite find them.

"It's hard to explain," he said. "It was devastation. It was destruction. It was crazy."

Ballentine was actually off duty on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. His FDNY station house, Engine Co. 255, is located in Brooklyn.

"But everyone who could volunteered that day," he said. "We all came."

Ballentine retired from the FDNY in 2005 and moved to Mooresville on the advice of a buddy who had made the same migration a short time before him.

"He told me the weather was better and that my money could go further down here," Ballentine said.

On Monday morning, Ballentine was at the the Shell Station on Turnersburg Highway near Exit 54 off Interstate 77.

He was wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt with the insignia of his former FDNY outfit. And he planned to join a group of several dozen other motorcyclists in a ride that began in New York and will end in Fort Benning, Ga.

The event, called Iron and Steel NYC to Ft. Benning, commemorates those killed in the terrorist attacks of 2001.

Riders - which will total some 2,000 along the way - are escorting a two-ton I-beam from one of the World Trade Centers buildings that were leveled in the attacks. The beam will be part of a memorial in Fort Benning to Rick Rescorla, a retired Army colonel who was killed in the 9/11 attacks while working as a World Trade Center security chief.

Ballentine shrugs off the notion that he and his comrades with the many fire departments and law enforcement agencies and other emergency units did anything special or extraordinary on 9/11 and the days, weeks and months that followed.

"I don't like to think that we were heroes," he said. "We were just doing the job we were trained to do. It's just like soldiers; they just go out there and do the job. And that's what we did and that's what we always do."

Ballentine said that while the terrorist attacks took place in New York City, he said the response would have been the same in any other city in the United States.

"I know it was a horrible day," he said "But the way the country came together then was something special. This didn't happen to New York or the police department of the fire department. It happened to America and we shouldn't forget that."

He added that while the emergency workers may have answered the initial call, the military has become "the real heroes" since 9/11.

"This whole country owes them a debt of gratitude," he said.

And that is why he joined the ride.

"These rides are great," he explained. "Because they keep us remembering."

Ballentine's plan was to join the riders many of whom were current or retired firefighters or police officers - for the nearly 400-mile stretch of the ride from Statesville to Fort Benning, which is located near Columbus, Ga.