Honoring the patriots of Sept. 11

The American Legion Post 79 held its annual Patriot’s Day service at Veterans Memorial Park in South Hill on Saturday, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Many people turned out to honor and remember all those who lost their lives on that terrible day 15 years ago.

American Legion Post 79 Commander Raymond Walker welcomed those in attendance and introduced several local dignitaries, including state Sen. Frank Ruff, Tommy Evans with the Marine Corps League Lake Country Detachment 1085, Del. Tommy Wright, VFW Post 7166 Commander Bill Arnold, American Legion Post 79 Chaplain Roy Johnson, South Hill Volunteer Fire Department Deputy Chief Alex Graham, Southside Rescue Squad Capt. David Baisey and South Hill Police Chief Stuart Bowen, who served as the event’s keynote speaker.

“I have to admit, when the post commander came to me on my second day as chief of police here and asked me to speak today, I was a bit taken aback,” Bowen said. “Not because he was asking me on my second day, but because he was offering me the opportunity to speak on and about a date that has so much meaning to first responders like myself.”

Bowen said the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will be forever etched in our memories.

“Sept. 11, 2001, is a date that those of us living at the time, will never forget,” he said. “Like so many other dates before in our country’s history, what we were doing and where we were when we first learned of the terrorist attacks is forever seared in our memories.”

Bowen recalled where he was when he learned of the attacks.

“I was a fairly new police officer working midnight shift on Sept. 11, 2001,” he said. “I had court that day and was heading out of the police department to our officer’s break room. The difference on this morning was that what was normally an empty break room was packed with people watching a live shot of New York City. The emotion of the men and women in that room was clear, as by this time one of the towers had already fallen. I will never forget.”

Bowen said we gather at services on Sept. 11 to honor those victims and emergency responders who lost their lives 15 years ago.

“We honor the first responders who laid down their lives, 343 firefighters and 72 police officers. These are the people that ran up the stairs when everyone else was running down,” he said. “We also honor the men and women of United Air flight 93 who gave their lives when they overwhelmed the terrorists, who then crashed the plane in a field in Pennsylvania. These heroes saved countless lives in Washington, D.C., that day.”

Bowen also recognized all the Americans who answered the call for duty and helped our country fight the War on Terror. He spoke about the state of America following the attacks, comparing American patriots, spirit and patriotism to steel and saying that we could not be broken.

South Hill Police Chief Stuart Bowen offered a moving speech at South Hill’s Patriot’s Day service on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park. (Olivia Allison/South Hill Enterprise)

South Hill Police Chief Stuart Bowen offered a moving speech at South Hill’s Patriot’s Day service on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park. (Olivia Allison/South Hill Enterprise)

“I would like to speak briefly about this American spirit,” Bowen said. “The steel that we saw that day is the same steel we saw from American patriots who volunteered to protect us and take the fight to the terrorists. The steel I speak of is the American people. Individually, we can be broken and are weak, but together, each bringing our own unique talent, we are strong. We may bend from time to time, but we never break,” Bowen said. “We honor and remember the men who volunteered by the thousands to serve, some giving all to protect us. We honor those that serve and those that are still serving today, holding the evils of this world at bay, so that we may live in peace. The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were intended to break us. And though some days I worry the number of people who will stand together and answer the call to service are getting smaller and smaller, I realize that every generation must have worried the same as me.”

Bowen said he grew up spending summers at American Legion Post 8, hearing stories of friendship, service, honor and sacrifice for God and country.

“Looking back now, I understand that this all helped to mold me into the public servant that I am today,” he said. “So I rest easy, knowing that the steel that was forged for an American Revolution, for World War I and World War II, in Korea, in Southeast Asia, in Iraq and Afghanistan, can be forged again and again. They hoped to break us, but all they did was make us stronger.

“Today, I say thank you. Thank you to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Thank you to the firefighters, police officers, EMS workers and dispatchers. Thank you to all the patriots of this great nation. Together we go forward, never forgetting and always honoring the sacrifice and bravery of that day and all the days that have followed. May God bless and protect you and may God bless and protect the United States of America.”

In addition to Bowen’s moving speech, American Legion Post 79 Chaplain Roy Johnson offered Invocation and Benediction, the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department rang the Four-Fives bell tones, American Legion Post 79 Honor Guard played Taps, posted the colors, placed the memorial wreaths and offered a 21-rifle salute, and local business owner and Mecklenburg County School Board member Gavin Honeycutt sang the National Anthem.

Featured Photo: Members of South Hill’s VFW Post 7166 and American Legion Post 79 and Auxiliary President Diane Rogers placed the memorial wreaths at Saturday’s Patriot’s Day service while each of America’s 11 conflicts (wars) were named. (Olivia Allison/South Hill Enterprise)