The strength of America lies in its willingness "to fight for justice across the world," said Dr. T.V. Ramakrishna of the Hindu Vedanta Society. "God bless America and God bless the world."
"Your sons and daughters have gathered to ask your blessing, Creator," said Native American flutist Rick Rivard. "We pray that man's wisdom and humanity shall prevail."
At the suggestion of the Rev. Esber Tweel of Charleston's Church of the Good Shepherd, those in the crowd joined hands in prayer.
The carnage of the past year has made Americans reflect upon their own mortality, Tweel said, urging those attending the ceremony to join hands and look their neighbors in the eye. "We have been strangers long enough in this world," he said. "Let this moment be a time together, good people."
House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, reading passages from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, echoed the theme of unity.
"From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion," said Kiss. The living, he recited, should "highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."
Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin read from Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech, which concluded that "Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain these rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept, there can be no end save victory."
During the past year, Wise concluded, Americans have become "more somber, more determined and more united.
"We have learned that in a diverse nation, we can gain strength from one another. Terrorists who hoped to exploit our diversity have learned it is our bulwark."
Those in the crowd waved American flags and swayed in unison as the Appalachian Children's Chorus sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and the 249th Army Band performed "God Bless the USA."
Many of those attending the event took Wise up on his suggestion that they thank uniformed military and emergency services personnel for the line-of-duty sacrifices they are willing to make in their behalf.
The unfurling via crane of a 50-by-30-foot American flag at the end of the program was timed to coincide with a flyover by two West Virginia Air National Guard C-130 transport planes.
Coincidentally, a Boeing 757 aircraft from the presidential aircraft fleet at Andrews Air Force Base, designated Air Force One when the president is aboard it, was repeatedly seen in the skies over Charleston Wednesday, as it made approaches for touch-and-go landings at Yeager Airport.
To contact staff writer Rick Steelhammer, use e-mail or call 348-5169.