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York remembers 9/11
More than 500 York County citizens gathered under tents atop the hills looking down on the Court of Valor, Prospect Hill Cemetery's veterans monument, to pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on Sept.,11, 2001, and to also mark the sacrifices made by those who have since served in the War on Terror.
The annual Court of Valor and Safekeepers Shrine Ceremony took place at 1 p.m. Sunday. At the center of the monument, above two pillars with the names of the departed etched into the granite, sits a 3,000-pound steel beam taken from the wreckage of the World Trade Center — known in the aftermath of the attacks as ground zero — and erected in 2009 in honor of York's fallen heroes.
The beam measures 9 feet 11 inches.
Present Arms: At the presentation and retiring of the colors, as well as during the flag-folding ceremonies, those in uniform and those who have served and for whom the uniform, no matter how long tucked away, never truly comes off rendered salutes to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their nation or in service to their community.
York City Mayor Kim Bracey took part in the ceremony by leading the Pledge of Allegiance and participating in the folding and the presentation of flags to the families of fallen retired York City Police Officer Ronald F. Heist and fallen Hanover firefighter Earl J. Shoemaker. Heist was killed in March by a robber while working for Schaad Detective Agency as security for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and Shoemaker died of a heart attack in March while responding to a fire call.
Bracey said she was moved as a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces and as mayor of York City to have attended the ceremony Sunday.
"Obviously, as a veteran, this is very moving in that way and in the respect that we give to those who have served in the United States military," Bracey said. "And then, of course, 15 years ago. None of us can forget 9/11, and we shouldn't."
For Bracey, the day also meant being ushered from one event to another to represent the city at ceremonies across the county. She attended an earlier 9/11 ceremony Sunday morning and was headed to the York Fair for a first-responders event later that afternoon followed by a Kiwanis event at 6 p.m.
She took time to shake hands with and to greet fellow veterans and survivors of veterans at the closing of the ceremony, which she said is always conducted respectfully by the cemetery.
"I appreciate Prospect Hill Cemetery always putting on this event in such a professional way so that all in the community can be a part of it. It means a lot to me to be able to participate," she said.
Nine names were added this year to the more than 300 already inscribed on the Court of Valor pillar, bringing the total number of inscriptions to 364. Names of York County's fallen veterans from the Civil War up through the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan adorn the pillars.
In addition, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. J.T. Hand conducted a missing comrades roll call, a time-honored tradition of calling out the names of a few military personnel in attendance who answer, "Here, sir," followed by calling out the names and ranks of those who did not make it back. Their names, called three times, are met with silence.
And finally. state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, read the names of each veteran buried at Prospect Hill and Greenmount cemeteries since last year's ceremony.
Standing Guard: All the while, at the bottom of the hill beneath the ceremony, a cadre of 17 vest-wearing motorcyclists, many of whom are veterans themselves, stood silent and in a row, each holding to their left a U.S. flag and rendering salutes at appropriate times. At a predetermined moment toward the end of the ceremony, it was they who unleashed a hidden cache of red, white and blue balloons in honor of the fallen.
"We are the Patriot Guard Riders of Pennsylvania, comprised of numerous groups of various different veterans motorcycle-riding organizations, fire department riding organizations, police," Chris Fortney said.
The Patriot Guard, known nationally for its sometimes mileslong escorts for military funerals, accompanying veteran's coffins as they arrive at airports from overseas to the cemetery that will become the fallen soldier's final billeting, provided an escort into Sunday's ceremony.
Fortney said it is as important to remember 9/11 as it is to remember any other day in American history, especially in today's fast-paced, 24-hour news-cycle world.
"We didn't want to forget Pearl Harbor. We didn't want to forget the Holocaust and all these things that have happened. They are a part of history. And this is a part of America's history," Fortney said. "Things seem to become forgotten a lot quicker than they used to. And we think that an effort like this is something (we can use) to keep 9/11 out there and make sure people remember."
— Reach John Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnJoyceYD.