TERRE HAUTE —
As the sun set and skies turned pink Sunday, about 30 people worked to light 9,200 tea candles at the Fairbanks Park Chauncey Rose Memorial.
Soon, the warmth could be felt from the candles, which were lighted in memory of those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and for all American service members who have since lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The lighting of candles followed the Wabash Valley 9/11 Memorial Event, which included speakers, music, a balloon launch, 21-gun salute and moment of silence. About 300 people attended.
Among those lighting candles after the formal ceremony was Jerome Shouse of Clay City, who did so “to pay respect to those who lost their lives on 9/11.”
North Vigo student Alyssa Wheeler, who is in J-ROTC, said, “It really means a lot to me.” Her grandfather was a veteran, and he recently died.
Brenda Linder of Terre Haute felt it was important to make a statement. Paraphrasing one of the speakers, she said, “We’re not going to forget, but we’re not going to let it get us down, either,” she said. “We’re strong.”
Among those who spoke during the memorial event was Col. Chris Colbert, director of staff for the joint force headquarters in Indianapolis. On 9/11, he was one of two pilots from the 181st Fighter Wing to escort Air Force One from Chicago to outside Washington, D.C.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 affected all Americans, Colbert said. “The world has not been the same since,” he said. “Nor will we ever return to a pre-9/11 life.”
The terrorist attacks “gave most of us cause to evaluate our lives and restructure our priorities,” he said.
The terrorists believed their acts would cause the country to crumble and falter through fear. “They never expected that 10 years later, we would gather all across this great nation, memorializing not the event, but who we are,” Colbert said. They didn’t understand how America cherishes its liberties and freedoms.
The United States has shown the terrorists that “we are resilient,” Colbert said.
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 “gives us great reason to be angry. But let us never act in anger. Let this day rejuvenate us,” he said. He hopes the anniversary memorials “add to our resilience by adding a measure of eternal vigilance.”
Also speaking was Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse. “We must never forget these attacks, or those who have given their lives keeping us free,” he said.
He paid tribute to three service members from the community who have given their lives while serving their country:
• Army Sgt. Kyle W. Childress
• Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, and
• Marine Cpl. Gregory S. Stultz
He asked for a moment of silence for the three, as well as fallen Terre Haute police officer Brent Long, who was killed in the line of duty on July 11.
Terre Haute Fire Chief Jeff Fisher paid tribute to the first responders who died on 9/11 and he also recognized Vigo County’s emergency responders.
“This is a family. … We will do what we have to do to save lives,” Fisher said. “When we put this uniform on every day, we don’t know if we will go home at the end of our shift, but that’s a choice we make. … We love what we do.”
Other speakers included Eighth District Congressman Larry Bucshon, Mayor Duke Bennett, County Commissioner Judy Anderson and Dr. C. David Hay.
Perhaps no one in the audience better appreciated the efforts of first-responders than Chandler Strayer, an 11-year-old boy critically injured in an accidental shooting in July.
He spent several weeks in Methodist Hospital and was initially in critical condition. But thanks to the efforts of emergency responders, his family says, Strayer was at Sunday’s memorial and he was one of several children to release balloons into the air; they released balloons to honor the children who died on 9/11.
“Chandler just went through a very tragic thing. He’s very fortunate to be alive and be with us,” said his mother, Shari Mack. The family was “honored” to have Strayer release one of the balloons.
Family members, and Strayer, also lighted tea candles. The 11-year-old said that 9/11 “was a horrid thing.”
Also attending Sunday’s memorial event was Tim Wilkey, a service member who has served in Iraq. T.J. Coonce, who began organizing the candlelight vigil late last year, said Wilkey was her inspiration.
Reacting to the memorial event and candlelight vigil, Wilkey said, “The community support is tremendous,” he said.