As we headed Friday to the 10th Tribute to Heroes in downtown Bradenton,it was with a foreboding sense of ending.
So starts our editorial tomorrow in the Herald, which I finished just a little while ago -- hours after the Tribute to Heroes 10th annual luncheon concluded. (Editorial Page Editor Chris Wille is on vacation, so the honor falls to me...)
I found myself struggling mightily to opine, caught by surprise at the emotions that still overwhelmed me. I haven't missed any of the tributes, and watching the excellent video (see below) by METV and Charles Clapsaddle's crew brought back strong memories of each year.
I could barely hold back my tears as East Manatee Editor Jim Jones introduced me at the tribute to Stefenie Hernandez, Patrick Lay's mother. Her handshake was firm, her gaze clear, her voice strong as she thanked us for being there. Everyone in the room seemed to gravitate to her, as photographer Grant Jefferies captured here.
So much has changed; so much has stayed the same. The curse of war; the blessing of love. How do you put that into words?
Then I read Herald reporter Paradise Afshar's blog tonight, full of young hope, dreams, fears and convictions. She found the words. And I did cry.
I think we're going to be all right. And I hope we can help sustain the tributes to our heroes, as we encourage in the rest of Saturday's editorial:
Ticket sales have dwindled in the past few years. Indeed, the auditorium floor had plenty of room for more tables this year. At least one 10-top sat empty.
But next to that table, front and center, sat the family of Army Spc. 4 Patrick Lay II. Their heads were held high, their backs straight with pride, their faces wet with painful occasional tears. One of our own gave his life for our freedom.
Ten years ago, almost 3,000 Americans lost their lives in one of the biggest attacks in history on our country’s freedom. The victims at Ground Zero included 343 New York firefighters, 23 New York police officers, 37 Port Authority officers and 15 emergency medical technicians.
They are the men and women we honor each year at Bradenton’s Tribute to Heroes. Our community’s first responders gather, in full uniforms heavy with badges of honor, to remember their own who gave the ultimate.
So it was with great pride and relief to hear Mayor Wayne Poston preface his remarks at the Tribute with a declaration that, as long as he is mayor, Bradenton will continue to have some sort of 9-11 annual tribute.
We do need to look forward. We do need to move on, learning from that horrific day and the 10 years since. But we also need to remember the day we pulled together as a nation under attack. We need to remember the lives lost in the ensuing decade of war, praying that Spc. 4 Lay is our last loss, but knowing that more may follow.
Fly your flag this weekend. Join hands in prayers and hope.
We will never forget.