In an outdoor ceremony at the state Capitol in which the weather was seemingly choreographed to fit the mood, more than 3,000 West Virginians gathered to pay tribute to those who died in last year's terrorist attacks.
Leaden skies bearing a threat of rain prevailed at the start of the ceremony, which included periods of silent remembrance at the moment each of the four hijacked airliners crashed. Brisk breezes showered those attending the service with falling leaves from Statehouse oaks, as the West Virginia liberty bell was tolled in honor of the rescue workers who died doing their duty. But as the ceremony drew to a close, the Capitol was washed in bright sunlight as a 1,500-square foot American flag was hoisted by crane into the air behind the speaker's platform, and began snapping in the wind with a vigor the crane's crew barely managed to contain. At the same time, a pair of West Virginia Air National Guard C-130s roared low through the blue skies over the cheering, flag-waving crowd. "We gather as a united people, determined that terrorism should be vanquished wherever it may live," said Gov. Bob Wise, the main speaker at the event. "This gathering is exactly the opposite of what those who brought us death and destruction intended." In calling for moments of silence to mark the exact time each of the terrorist-hijacked planes crashed, Wise reminded the crowd of the West Virginians who died as a result.
Among the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center's North Tower, the first building to be struck, were former WVU quarterback Christopher Stewart Gray, 32, a trader at the Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage firm, and James K. Samuel Jr., a WVU economics graduate. Parkersburg native Mary Lou Hague, 26, perished in the suicide crash into the South Tower, where she worked as a researcher. Dr. Paul Ambrose, a Marshall University medical school graduate with promise of becoming a future U.S. Surgeon General, was killed when the airliner in which he was a passenger crashed into the Pentagon.
In addition to remembering the innocents who died in the attacks, Wise said it was important to mourn those who died trying to save them. "In John, we read 'The greatest love is shown when one lays down his life for another,'" Wise said. "They showed that love, and America suddenly recognized in their everyday responses what we had always taken for granted — the true heroism that it is." Wise gave thanks for the post-attack efforts of America's armed forces, including more than 700 West Virginia National Guard soldiers and airmen now on active duty.
"Make no mistake — one reason there have been no further terrorist attacks in the past year here at home is because of armed forces fighting terrorists thousands of miles away in their homeland," he said. Joining the governor at the podium were Lisa Vance, wife of West Virginia National Guard Sgt. Gene Vance of Morgantown, a member of a Special Forces unit who was killed in an ambush in Afghanistan. Wise also introduced Clyde Shuttleworth of Grafton, father of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anissa Shero, 31, who died when the special operations aircraft on which she was a crewmember crashed shortly after takeoff from an Afghan airstrip. Maj. Gen. Allen E. Tackett, the state adjutant general, and Col. Tim Frye, commander of the Charleston-based 130th Airlift Wing, laid wreaths in honor of armed forces personnel killed in the war against terrorism. A diverse spectrum of clerics took part in the ceremony. "God made nations that you may know each other, not that you may despise each other," said Mohammad Jamal Daoudi, imam of the Islamic Association of West Virginia, who recited from the Quran in both Arabic and English.
The strength of America lies in its willingness "to fight for justice across the world," said Dr. T.V. Ramakrishna of the Hindu Vedanta Society. "God bless America and God bless the world." "Your sons and daughters have gathered to ask your blessing, Creator," said Native American flutist Rick Rivard. "We pray that man's wisdom and humanity shall prevail." At the suggestion of the Rev. Esber Tweel of Charleston's Church of the Good Shepherd, those in the crowd joined hands in prayer. The carnage of the past year has made Americans reflect upon their own mortality, Tweel said, urging those attending the ceremony to join hands and look their neighbors in the eye. "We have been strangers long enough in this world," he said. "Let this moment be a time together, good people." House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, reading passages from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, echoed the theme of unity. "From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion," said Kiss. The living, he recited, should "highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth." Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin read from Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech, which concluded that "Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain these rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept, there can be no end save victory." During the past year, Wise concluded, Americans have become "more somber, more determined and more united. "We have learned that in a diverse nation, we can gain strength from one another. Terrorists who hoped to exploit our diversity have learned it is our bulwark." Those in the crowd waved American flags and swayed in unison as the Appalachian Children's Chorus sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and the 249th Army Band performed "God Bless the USA." Many of those attending the event took Wise up on his suggestion that they thank uniformed military and emergency services personnel for the line-of-duty sacrifices they are willing to make in their behalf. The unfurling via crane of a 50-by-30-foot American flag at the end of the program was timed to coincide with a flyover by two West Virginia Air National Guard C-130 transport planes. Coincidentally, a Boeing 757 aircraft from the presidential aircraft fleet at Andrews Air Force Base, designated Air Force One when the president is aboard it, was repeatedly seen in the skies over Charleston Wednesday, as it made approaches for touch-and-go landings at Yeager Airport. To contact staff writer Rick Steelhammer, use e-mail or call 348-5169.