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.