From chaos … heroes arose
EDWARDS, Colorado – It doesn’t end with taps. It never has.
Hundreds of locals joined millions of people around the nation and world remembering and honoring the victims and heroes of 9/11.
The honoring started early.
When Buddy Sims, of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, rolled out at dawn to lower the flag at the Freedom Park 9/11 Memorial, it had already been visited. Left on that place of honor were flowers, firefighters’ boots and, the most disturbing, a badly melted firefighter helmet. No name, just an insignia, “X229.” It’s impossible to say whose it was or how it came to be so melted. Heroes don’t often leave calling cards.
“I have lived in 18 countries, and I tell you there is nowhere like the United States,” said Col. Thomas Kirk, keynote speaker for Sunday’s event. “We have to understand how blessed we are to live in the United States of America.”
It’s not life as usual
Most of us vow never to forget, and mostly we don’t. But we also go on with life as usual, except now we occasionally complain because we have to unload laptops and remove shoes at the airport. Then we spot a kid in a military uniform who was in the third grade on Sept. 11, 2001, and we put our shoes back on and shut up.
But of course life does not go on as usual or at all for nearly 3,000 people at ground zero in Lower Manhattan, for those killed in the Pentagon or for those brave passengers of Flight 93 who overran their captors knowing the terrorists flying the plane would crash it and kill them all. They refused to let the terrorists crash it into the White House or Capitol building. They were led by an ironworker flying home to see his pregnant wife and their children. His rally cry as he led the charge: “Let’s roll.”
Former President George Bush on Saturday called Flight 93 “the first act of counterterrorism.”
Life does not go on as usual or at all for the 343 heroic New York City firefighters and police officers who died in the World Trade Center – running into the flames and chaos when the rest of the world was running away.
Honoring that spirit
It was that spirit that people gathered to honor Sunday in Freedom Park on a bright Colorado autumn afternoon.
As the military and emergency personnel rolled into Freedom Park, they and the local Boy Scouts saluted one another.
The Air Force Academy color guard presented the colors – five young cadets full of potential and promise.
Beth Swearingen, Cathy Morrow and Sally Peterson – the Fabulous Femmes – were fabulous with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and some of those same Boy Scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Alpine Wind Ensemble played; so did bagpiper Michael Lancaster.
Speakers impressed upon the crowd what was lost and gained.
• “I don’t believe acting on feelings of rage is the best way to go forward. To honor those whose lives were prematurely lost is to be the best we can possibly be,” said Debra Rappaport, rabbi with B’Nai Vail.
Everyone wants to be right, and civility is the victim, she said.
“Maybe it’s better to be connected. We really are all in this together. … For God’s sake and our own sake, let’s go forward in civility.”
• Father Brooks Keith is the last clergy member still serving in the Vail Interfaith Chapel 10 years later.
At 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, the chapel doors opened for a service. Keith didn’t know when or how, but it was going to happen.
By noon, more than 700 people had come: truckers off Interstate 70, people looking for someone of mind and heart for comfort. They found one another.
“It was one of the best moments in my ministry,” Keith said.
Many in Sunday’s crowd weren’t born yet on 9/11.
“What we have to pass along to them is light in our world,” Keith said.
And then he prayed, as we did on this day 10 years ago and have since.
• “It’s easy for us to forget our place in the world. We have relative isolation, peace and prosperity,” said Eagle county commissioner Jon Stavney.
“That morning 10 years ago today broke our peace,” Stavney said. “There’s still a lot of reflection to be done.”
• Millie Hamner represents Eagle, Lake and Summit counties in the Colorado state House of Representatives. She was in education for 35 years before shifting to state politics.
“We all remember where we were when we got the news. What happened 10 years ago changed forever the lives of these children. We live in a global society that does not unanimously support what we stand for,” Hamner said. “Our young people saw American rallying together with our unwavering will to prevail. Our youth will remember what can be accomplished when Americans come together.”
Then she introduced the three local school children won an essay contest and the privilege to read their essays to Sunday’s crowd.
• First grader Chloe Putnam drew a picture. Standing on tiptoe on a small platform behind the podium, she looked that crowd straight in the eye and told them what it was.
“It’s a picture of an army that killed Osama bin Laden, there are children … and the sun. The sun has a sad face.”
• Talon Ortiz, 9, drew the Twin Towers on fire.
“We need to stay protective of our country and we must never forget what happened,” he said.
• Sixth grader Orion McClurg read her profound essay.
“Surrounded by chaos and confusion, heroes arose,” she said. “Our country is still at war and we have doubled the number of people dead on September 11th,” McClurg said. “We must never forget what happened on that fateful day.”
• Tessy Holguin, 16, wrote a poem that concluded with the line, “We will never forget.”
Kirk: A study in sacrifice
Col. Thomas Kirk was the keynote speaker because his life is a study sacrifice. He lived in Vail for the better part of two decades.
When event organizers were trying to find someone who represents sacrifice and survival, they found Col. Kirk, said Eagle River Fire Protection District Chief Charlie Moore as he introduced Kirk.
Kirk has done everything for this country except die for it – which he says he would still do.
Kirk enlisted in the military in 1950 and flew jets in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He was shot down in Vietnam and spent five years in the Hanoi Hilton, a brutal prison camp where John McCain was also held.
He was appalled as anyone when terrorists attacked, killing more people on U.S. soil than at any time since the Civil War Battle of Antietam
“We never thought it could happen in this country. It is fitting that millions of people are honoring and remembering what happened on this day,” Kirk said.
I’d like to think that everyone here will rededicate themselves, in some small way, to helping keep this country safe,” Kirk said.
Kirk reminded the crowd that America remains a terrorist target.
“As long as there are people in the world who hate our lifestyle and our freedoms, they’re going to be after us,” Kirk said. “There are people who want you dead simply because you do not have the same religious faith as they do.”
Americans also have a difficult time understanding those who would kill for that reason.
“I cannot comprehend that a young man or young woman will strap bombs to themselves and walk into an airport, or a place were people gather and blow themselves up because we do not share the same religion,” Kirk said.
“I ask you think of America’s fallen heroes every now and then. Look on the mirror and ask yourself a question, “How an I dong?” Not as a matter of ego, but as a father, wife, husband and citizen. If you could do something better, you should be about it,” Kirk said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.