On the one-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, many in the country paid their respects in their own way on their own terms.
The Marines of 9th Marine Corps District paid tribute in their own way also. In a joint ceremony with Marine Corps Reserve Support Command (MCRSC) and Marine Corps Support Activity (MCSA), 9th District Marines mourned the loss of military service personnel, firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and civilians, while celebrating our country's continued strength and resolve.
Before the ceremony began in the MCRSC parking lot, three platoons of Marines from all three commands stood in formation, flanked on the left by a rifle detail and on the right by the Belton High School chorus. With their instruments draped with small American flags, the Belton High School band stood proudly behind the formation of Marines and watched as the color guard posted at the flagpoles in front of the building.
As the ceremony began, Cmdr. Rick Williams, 9th District Chaplain, gave the invocation. Williams was called to the Pentagon on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001 to minister to those in need. His remarks seemed to stem from his personal experiences there.
"Our hearts reach out to those families who continue to suffer untold loss and grief as a result of the brutality of those who do not understand the gift of freedom," he said. "The futures and the countless dreams of those who perished will forever be lost to the events of Sept. 11, 2001."
As the chaplain finished, the crowd was asked to remain standing as the colors were raised. The chorus sang the National Anthem, as sharp salutes and stern faces seemed to echo the sentiment in everyone's hearts - never forget.
Following the flag raising, Miss De'Angela Williams, a federal employee from MCRSC, read a Unity Poem reminding the crowd that we as a country do not need to be shown by violence of how "United We Stand," but that we should remember how strong we are every day.
The formation was called to attention and the commanding officer of MCRSC, Col. Douglas M. Stone, introduced the Mayor of Belton, Mrs. Billie Pinkepank. Pinkepank offered her remarks and read a proclamation declaring Sept. 11 as "Always Remember 9-11 Day."
"We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the aircraft crashing into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001," she said. "That was the first time in 61 years that there has been any real threat to our freedom, freedom we too often take for granted." In the proclamation, the City of Belton and Board of Aldermen encouraged all citizens to honor the victims of Sept. 11 by reaffirming their commitment to sustaining our newfound patriotism through volunteerism, community involvement, and service. "What a tragic way to be reminded of how precious that freedom is and be reminded of the thousands who have sacrificed their lives to secure and maintain that freedom," Pinkepank said, sadly.
As Stone returned to the podium, he echoed the words of the mayor and the Unity Poem, remarking on this country's continued support for each other and our service members overseas. Six honored guests were introduced to the spectators, each representing a unique segment of the country. Rob Kriesel of the Belton Fire Department represented fallen firefighters, Belton Police Chief Jim Person represented fallen police officers, and representing fallen government civilians was the MCRSC Civilian of the Quarter, Ms. Connie Williams. LtCol. David McMillan, officer in charge of the orders and pay branch at MCRSC, represented departed service members. McMillan recently returned from a 6-month tour in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Representing Americas' past citizens and its warriors was World War II veteran, former Marine SSgt. Fred Miller. And finally, young Charles Wilson, a Belton High School chorus member and Young Marine, represented America's youth and hope eternal.
Stone retreated from the podium and waited as each of the six honored guests was called up to receive a special plaque. He greeted each of them warmly with a firm handshake and smile, even in the face of commemorating such a tragic event.
The audience was then asked to stand as the formation was called to attention following the presentations. Honors were given to our fallen comrades as salutes were rendered, the rifle detail fired three volleys and a bugler from the Belton High School band played taps. A moment of silence was observed in respect of those who past, followed by a sounding rendition of "Anchor's Aweigh" and the "Marine's Hymn" performed by the band to conclude the ceremony.
All who attended the ceremony seemed to come away with the same sentiment - a renewed sense of pride and strength. Sgt. Laura Pingree, MCRSC public affairs chief, summed it up well.
"We'll do this again next year," she said. "Next year we'll just make it bigger and better." Bigger and better - just like our country's resolve after Sept. 11, 2001.