OAKHURST – With more than 200 people seated and standing under shady trees at the Oakhurst Community Park, Patriot Day brought the mountain area community together on Thursday, Sept. 11, much as the country was united in the aftermath of the tragic events which took place on Sept. 11, 2001.
Special thanks to Virginia Lazar for photography. Click on images to enlarge.
The program set to honor that day, sponsored by Sierra Tel, began promptly at 9 a.m. with Yosemite High School (YHS) student Cristian Mendoza performing “Attention to Colors” on the bugle, while the crowd stood for the Posting of Colors and flag raising by the Griswold Mountain Detachment Marina Corps League #1121 and YHS Cadet Corps led by Junior Vice Commandant Bud Russell.
YHS sophomore Joel Bradshaw led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful” performed by the YHS Chamber Singers led by Christel Biasell with Jackie Byers on piano.
Rima Runtzel, Marketing Coordinator for Sierra Tel, welcomed the group and introduced speakers throughout the morning, along with giving a focus-pulling commentary on the true numbers behind the loss on 9/11. Following Rima’s welcome, an invocation was led by Dr. Richard Lamontagne, as people bowed their heads in reflection.
After that quiet moment, the YHS Advanced Percussion Ensemble, led by Francisco Marquez, brought the mood up with a snappy performance that put a smile on people’s faces while still commemorating a solemn occasion.
District Supervisor Tom Wheeler took to the podium briefly to offer his thoughts, followed by the mountain area representative for Fresno/Madera Amvets, Dave Wolin. Mika Petrucci read a statement from Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, and Christina Hall read a statement from Congressman Tom McClintock. Shannon Major offered a statement from Senator Tom Berryhill just before Rima’s words of remembrance and statistics (in full, below). Those numbers are like a punch to the gut, every year.
Repeatedly we heard the words valor, patriot, honor, and bravery. Children played as the chilling history was recited and examined. The most remarkable part of the day was standing beside the same sort of people who would do today what was done back then: run toward danger as the rest of us run away. All around were the town’s protectors, from EMTs and Firefighters to CHP and Sheriff’s Deputies, and at least one soft-eyed, well-trained working canine.
Something special was certainly in the air this year. Perhaps the mood was elevated because of the new location, as this is the first time Patriot Day remembrance has been held in the Community Park, rather than in the parking lot at Sierra Tel. The canopy of green gave the surroundings an intimacy that’s critical for reflection and enabled a deep sense of honor and appreciation. Maybe it was because of all the fires we’ve had recently, and the firm knowledge we all carry that we’re surrounded by angels who walk amongst us, everyday.
Keynote speaker Bill Bastian, 92, is a World War II veteran who pulled no punches and acknowledged that much of what needed to be said had already been said. Still, he was able to impress the crowd with not only his own background as a proud American, but with his sense of humor and the ultimate simplicity with which he has approached his life. Bastian boiled it all down to something he learned long ago and continues to live by every day: the Boy Scout oath.
Bastian served with the same Combat Engineer Battalion Unit until the end of World War II as a Company Commander, Assistant Operations Officer, Battalion Motor Officer and Battalion Liaison Officer. He returned to Normandy as a color commentator for a “Normandy Revisited Tour” in the 1990s and has been heard on the radio sharing his wartime experiences. Yet, of all his experiences, it was the Boy Scout oath he chose to end his speech.
Rima called up the veterans, war by war, and emergency services personnel. Those who served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and military reserves in the order of the wars in which they served walked to the podium. Represented were World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iran-Iraq, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Iraqi Freedom.
Those who served in times of peace were asked to come forward, followed by representatives from Sierra Ambulance, California Highway Patrol, CAL FIRE, US Forest Service, Madera County Sheriff’s Department, Search and Rescue, Citizens on Patrol, Preparedness Committee, Disabled American Veterans Volunteer Drivers, and members of the volunteer fire departments.
Suddenly it seemed as though half the audience was standing behind the podium. Those who serve in every capacity stood graciously as the rest of us gave heartfelt thanks and applause for their continued presence in our lives.
Just after 10 a.m., the Griswold men and woman put on a 21 Rifle Salute and the colors were retired. Cristian Mendoza performed “Taps” beautifully, and many wiped their eyes as the flag was lowered to half mast.
Throughout the morning, the park had continued to fill up, and while it’s hard to say precisely how many were there, hugs, handshakes and smiles were as abundant as the tears. It’s a sad day to remember, and this is the way to do it: among friends, among protectors, under the trees, in the safety of a community embrace.
The day ended on a sweet note with Sierra Tel’s Safety Committee serving apple pie and ice cream in the park pavilion.
Following are the “stats” from 9/11 as compiled and read by Rima Runtzel, along with portions of her speech.
“13 years have passed since the global tragedies that took place on September 11, 2001. It is important that we be reminded of just how tragic that day was, so as to ensure that we never forget those who served and who lost their lives or loved ones that day. On this thirteenth anniversary of those attacks, let us remember through these powerful numbers:
“Time the towers were hit: 8:46 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. Time the burning towers stood: 56 minutes and 102 minutes. Time they took to fall: 12 seconds.
“Total numbers killed in attacks: 2,819. Number of firefighters and paramedics killed: 343. Bodies found intact: 289. Body parts found: 19,858. Number of families who got no remains: 1,717. Number of people who lost a spouse or partner in the attacks: 1,609. Estimated number of children who lost a parent: 3,051.
“I am proud to know the importance of patriotism, and of these statistics, has not been forgotten in the United States of America or in Oakhurst, California.” – Rima Runtzel