Sept. 11 tribute: ‘Today we remember’

The haunting strains of a lone bagpipe quieted the crowd and drew curious eyes toward the hill above Overlook Memorial Park in Hood River onWednesday, Sept.11.

Marion County Sheriff Detective David White opened the Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony with “The Mist Covered Mountains,” a song played by pipers during the funeral of John F. Kennedy decades earlier. He was flanked by Odell firefighters Ryan Willis and John Gass, City Police Reserve Officer Sal Rivera and County Sheriff Sergeant Jesse Flem.

On the street below, more than 70 uniformed representatives from area fire and law enforcement agencies stood silently at attention. About that same number of civilians were also present to pay respect to the victims of the terrorist attacks on the East Coast that had taken place one year earlier. Both veterans and public servants saluted the American flag when it was raised and then lowered to half-mast by Oregon National Guardsmen.

Mayor Paul Cummings and Lynn Guenther, master of ceremonies, each thanked the assemblage of emergency responders, and members of the military, for placing their “lives on the line each and every day” on behalf of their fellow citizens.

“On Sept. 11, and the days that followed, men and women in all kinds of uniforms — police, fire, medical, National Guard, public works, Red Cross, Army, Navy, Air Force Marines, Coast Guard — all looked death in the face, and upheld their sworn oath to serve and protect,” said Guenther.

“Today, we have those same people among us. The faces are different, but each and every one of them before you will serve and protect you and our way of life. Today we remember. Today we reflect. Today we should say ‘thank you’ and ‘God bless’ to those in uniform among us,” he said.

Keynote speaker Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, said that while the words of the day were only a “snapshot in time” that would not specifically be recalled in future years, it was important that the reason behind the gathering not be forgotten.

“Today we are here to commemorate tragedy and triumph, we are here to commemorate pain and pride, we are here to commemorate fear and faith,” said Metsger. “May this day serve as a beacon of hope and, on a personal level, give us the resolve to do a little more and be a little better.”

Although Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, was unable to appear because of scheduling conflicts with the fifth special legislative session, she did submit a written statement that was read by Guenther.

“As we remember one year ago today, we can never forget the outpouring of compassion, faith and patriotism that happened because of this terrible tragedy. To the families and friends of those who perished, you have our deepest sympathy — we shall not forget,” wrote Smith.

City Police Chief Tony Dirks, who organized the event, joined Fire Chief Gary Willis in setting up a memorial wreath next to the pillar that listed the names of Hood River’s war dead. Members of Veteran of Foreign Wars Post No. 1479 circulated through the crowd passing out red poppies symbolizing the blood spilled in the Sept. 11 tragedy.

One of the civilians in attendance, Jim Slusher, director of the local Community Action Council, stood at Ground Zero in Manhattan last week while attending a national conference. He said seeing the empty 16-acre block that had once housed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center brought home the devastation although, at the same time, the magnitude of that destruction seemed hard to comprehend.

“It was very quiet, very somber,” said Slusher. “I thought of the fear that must have been going through people’s minds and the chaos as they tried to live through that day.”

Following the memorial ceremony, Hood River police and fire officials climbed into patrol cars and fire engines to join a “silent parade” in the The Dalles to honor their fallen comrades.

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