OAKHURST – There are some dates you just don’t forget. Where were you, that fateful Tuesday in 2001, when the news broke that planes had hit the Twin Towers in New York?
Eleven years later, on Tuesday, on Sept. 11, 2012, friends, neighbors, veterans, civilians and students gathered at the patriotically festooned Sierra Telephone Headquarters on Road 426 to remember and reflect on the tragedy that has since become known, simply, as 9/11. The gathering also celebrated our first responders, veterans and active duty military.An impressive tone was set as the morning began with a flag-raising by the Griswold Mountain Detachment Marine Corps League #1121 and the Yosemite High School Cadet Corps, led by Bruce Derry and Ellen Peterson.
YHS Student Joe Eleman then called for attention to colors and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Kailyn Hammerling.
The YHS Chamber Singers, led by Christel Biasel, performed our National Anthem, along with a poignant song from a play The Civil War. “Tell My Father” contains the moving lyrics,
“Tell my father that his son
Didn’t run, or surrender
That I bore his name with pride
As I tried to remember
You are judged by what you do
While passing through.”
Doctor Richard Lamontagne, Marine Chaplain, then led the crowd in a solemn invocation.
Following the opening ceremonies, guests were uplifted by a special performance from the Yosemite High School Advanced Percussion Ensemble, led by Randy Hyatt.
Dave Wolin presented a statement on behalf of the Mountain Area AMVETS, reminding us that while there were incredible acts of bravery on that horrible day in 2001, the nation came together for a time.
“We gather to express our sorrow for the innocent lives lost on that day, and appreciation for the heroes of our law enforcement, first responder and public safety community, everyone who selflessly sacrificed so that others could survive,” said Wolin.
“Inspired by the heroic sacrifices of our firefighters, rescue and law enforcement personnel, military service members, and other citizens, our Nation found unity, focus, and strength.”
Kurtis Foster, representative for Congressman Jeff Denham, and a former US Marine, shared a statement from the congressman praising our first responders, asking us all to “remember those who serve in our communities and face threats everyday.”
Brett McBay spoke on behalf of Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, while Shannon Major represented Senator Tom Berryhill.
Keynote Speaker Sue Okenyi, author of the book Healing the Heroe’s Heart, quoted from Brook Foss Westcott, a 19th century bishop. “Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and imperceptibly as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and at last some crisis shows what we have become.” Okenyi offered a touching and inspirational perspective.
Sierra Tel Marketing Director Rima Runtzel and the Sierra Tel Safety Awareness Committee members offered the Recognition of Veterans and Emergency Services Personnel.
Speaking to a packed sometimes tearful crowd, Runtzel said, “Our freedom has cost many lives, and these Veterans know firsthand about the sacrifices the men and women of our military have made. We thank all Veterans and active military for their courage and dedication in keeping America the land of the free!”
She then invited them to come forward and be recognized.
Sierra Tel Owner Harry Baker was presented with a special commemorative flag by Master Sargent Brian Smith, a Sierra Telephone Employee currently serving in Operation Enduring Freedom. Smith is a member of the Army’s 25th Signal Battalion.
Each year, Sierra Tel puts on this heartfelt pageant of music and speakers, and provides a place for those who wish to remember 9/11 to do so together, as a community.
The Building Maintenance Department sets up early in the morning and the Oakhurst Community Center loans out their chairs so the audience can be comfortable during the program. Sierra Tel’s Safety Awareness Committee decorates the main building along with the Pavilion, and distribute fans, water and small gifts throughout the event.
The tribute concluded with a 21 Rifle Salute by the Griswold Mountain Detachment 1121 Marines and a stirring rendition of “Taps” by YHS Student Joe Eckman. Once folks had a chance to digest the importance of the day’s program, they had the chance to digest a little pie, served up courtesy of Sierra Tel. Overall, it was a day worthy of our bravest.