By Randy Arrington
STANLEY, Sept. 11 — When the runners first gathered at the Stanley Fire Hall Saturday morning, there were smiles and friendly greetings as they introduced themselves to one another and shared stories. However, when the clock struck 8:46 a.m., the mood changed as the group paused for a moment of silence to mark the exact time the first plane struck the first tower in New York 20 years ago.
“In that moment of silence, I hope your mind went to a place of remembrance,” event organizer Kevin Moses said, as he became a little emotional. “This is our generation’s Pearl Harbor. Almost 3,000 snapped out in a blink of an eye because of savages.”
Moses, a ranger in Shenandoah National Park and a former paratrooper who served in Iraq, shared memories of heroes from that day and the more than 7,000 soldiers who have died in the “war on terror” protecting our nation since that day.
“There are a lot of people throwing the word ‘hero’ around a lot…they use it to describe our sports stars…but to me, the word ‘hero’ has a non-negotiable element – sacrifice,” Moses said. “There are people all around us who are heroes every day…people who go to work with armor on…[Stanley Police officer] Nick Winum was a hero. He gave his life protecting the community. That screams sacrifice to me, that screams hero to me.”
The organizer of the event marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorists attacks shared his experience of visiting the Sept. 11th memorial in Pennsylvania, where passengers engaged in “a fist fight at 600 mph” in order to save those who were the intended target of the hijackers. The plane believed to be headed for the U.S. capitol building in Washington, D.C., instead crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Moses became emotional again as he recalled meeting the mother of the youngest victim on Flight 93.
Moses challenged those in attendance to ask themselves, “what can I do to make our country better,” and when they became tired along the 8.5-mile route to “think of the firefighters going up those steps to rescue others.”
Chris Irwin traveled from Columbus, Ga. to be in Page County this weekend for the Luray Half Marathon. However, before putting in 13.1 miles around Lake Arrowhead on Sunday, he chose to log 8.5 miles along Route 340 from Stanley to Luray Saturday morning because of the meaning of the day.
“I was in Norfolk 20 years ago,” Irwin said, remembering a call from his wife that alerted him of the attacks. “It was a very serious attack on our country…and being in the military…makes it tough…”
His voice trails off, and even though the former Army Ranger doesn’t finish the thought, his message and meaning are clear. Irwin served with Rich Sweeting, who is now a project manager in Shenandoah National Park. Sweeting was first deployed to Iraq in 2003 in response to the 9/11 attacks. He was then deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, back to Iraq in 2007 and back to Afghanistan again in 2011. He remembers friends he lost along the way fighting the war on terror.
“This a tribute to those who perished that day and all the soldiers who fought against terrorism,” Sweeting said Saturday morning.
Sweeney was stationed in Hawaii on Sept. 11, 2001. It was 2 a.m. there when he received a call from his sister about the attacks. He remembers watching the towers fall.
Sweeney, a retired Army Ranger who now lives in Stanley, was chosen to carry the flag for the group of runners on Saturday. A responsibility he seemed to take great pride in.
“After the attacks, we got back up, and showed strength and honor,” Moses said as he explained the day’s theme embroidered on t-shirts he handed out. “We need to show strength, so they don’t attack us again, and we need to honor all those people that we lost on that day and since then.”
Russell Allen, a Stanley volunteer firefighter for the last 25 years and a maintenance worker for the Town of Luray, came out to run with the group to support firefighters across the country.
“I’m here for my brothers and sisters,” Allen said. “I’m gonna push my limits and see how far I can go.”
A shuttle truck followed the runners in case they needed a break, as well a Stanley firetruck. Passersby honked their support as the group made six stops along the way to the Luray Fire Hall, stopping first at a memorial in Stanley’s Ed Good Park. Each member of the group touched the eight-foot long, half-ton piece of steel pulled from the wreckage of the Twin Towers in New York and brought back to Page County for the memorial.
Additional stops along the route included Antioch Independent Bible Church, the Page County War Memorial at the courthouse, the Page County Sheriff’s Office, the Luray Police Department and the Luray American Legion Post.
Moses, the former paratrooper and now park ranger, hopes everyone in the community stops for a moment today to reflect on what the attacks of Sept. 11th meant, how it changed us and what we’re fighting for.
“This country is worth fighting for,” he said. “We should all say ‘Thank God’ because we have liberties that other countries can’t even imagine.”