The Riverbend area remembered the September 11 attacks with a program that featured nationally known figures, local dignitaries, and community leaders. Patriotic songs, references to God, and the greatness of America were the common theme of the event at Lewis and Clark Community College’s Hatheway Hall. Proceeds from the event went to support, Riverbend Memorial, a fund that provides monetary assistance to the family members of military, police, or fire personnel who have been injured or killed in the line of duty. Attendees included L&C President Dale Chapman and his wife Linda, former Republican Lieutenant Gubernatorial candidate Jason Plummer and his family, along with a long list of local business and community leaders.
Local musical talent provided entertainment and a sense of commonality early on with a quartet and chorus singing songs of patriotism and of faith. Joining them on stage were about two dozen leaders of local police and fire districts and members of the U.S. Military all in dress uniform with brass gleaming.
Presentation of the colors was performed by a local branch of the Air Force JROTC. With characteristic military precision the four high school students marched across the stage from opposite ends in dress uniform. From right to left the Stars and Stripes was carried across stage by a flag bearer whose highly polished M1 helmet gleamed under the spotlights. Following closely behind was another individual, M-1 rifle leaning smartly on his right shoulder, parts that normally would be gunmetal blue were gleaming silver. The Illinois State Flag was carried across the stage, left to right, concurrently and in the same manner. With a command the Honor Guard marched off stage.
A video was shown to the packed auditorium of the events of 9/11 in New York City. Over the images of the smoke-filled sky were the sounds of communications traffic on the police and fire radios interspersed with the comments of spectators in shock and disbelief. Glancing around the auditorium it became obvious; everyone was fixated on the video. The events may have happened 10 years ago, but to many, they were reliving them as if for the first time. A large man in a dark brown sports coat with a graying goatee that looked to be in his early sixties sat there, agony on his face, his body convulsing from uncontrollable sobs. Another woman was frantically wiping away tears and leaning on the shoulder of the lady next to her. She would later stand when audience members who had lost a family member during the 9/11 attacks, in the military, or as a first responder were asked to stand and be recognized. A brief period of silence remained after the video faded to black as attendees reflected on their thoughts and memories for the day.
Lt. Col. (Ret. USMC) Oliver North was the keynote speaker. One of the dignitaries on stage was Congressman John Shimkus, a West Point Grad and retired Lt. Col. from the Army Reserves. North in his opening remarks stated that it was nice to speak to a congressman when the first words out of his mouth weren’t ‘would the defendant please stand.’ The Fox News correspondent focused on the bravery of the men and women and their faith in God he has met while reporting in the Middle-East and the Philippines. A short video was shown of a Special Forces raid on a terrorist compound in late 2010. The video had been suppressed by Special Operations Command until after Osama bin Laden had been killed. The leader and 13 others in the raid shown were killed in August when a Chinook helicopter was shot down killing all 31 on board. North minced no words in criticizing his media colleagues who used the event as a platform to say that the United States was losing in Afghanistan and could not win instead of using it as a way to show the heroism, bravery and sacrifice of those in uniform. He was quick to criticize the ‘New York Crimes’ and the ‘Washington Compost’ for advancing the story of Abu Ghraib, along with those who ‘fabricated out of whole cloth’ the story of Korans being flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay. ‘I was in Baghdad and I saw the riots and people getting killed’ North said. Without mentioning names Col. North criticized Illinois Senator Dick Durbin for likening America’s Servicemen to Pol Pot, Soviet Gulags, and Nazi prison camps.
North later showed photographs that he had taken while reporting for Fox. The last was a picture of a medic, a Navy Corpsman carrying a wounded soldier. Looking at the photo the soldiers were in a desert along a highway, their humvees were painted green. The soldiers were Marines, the place was Iraq, the Marines had just been ambushed by members of Saddam’s Republican Guards, and the corpsman was carrying out his third wounded man, a member of Saddam’s Republican Guards to a waiting Medivac helicopter. Just off the shot North recalled that a Reuters crew had set up to take a photo of the event. After the corpsman delivered his charge one of the Reuters crew shouted above the din ‘Hey mate, couldn’t you tell he was a Republican Guardsman?’ To which the young man replied with a characteristic hand gesture that involved the raising of a fist and the full extension of his middle finger followed by a curse word whose use as a noun, adjective, pronoun or almost any other category known in the English language is unparalleled ‘couldn’t you tell he was wounded.’ ‘He did it,’ North commented, ‘because we are Americans and that’s what we do.’
Col. North then handed out the awards to the two families to be recognized by the Memorial. The first was given to the widow of Sergeant First Class Ronald Grider, an Army Ranger and former member of the 82nd Airborne killed on his 30th birthday when he was machine-gunned to death in 2010 in Konduz, Afghanistan. The second monetary award was given to the family of Marine Lance Corporal Stuart Heim. Heim was wounded earlier this year by a sniper’s bullet. He is currently recovering at a VA Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Heim’s left arm has been severely injured, he has lost the lower part of his left lung and has lost his spleen. Heim’s wife Kacy has quit her job to be by her husband’s side while he recovers.
Attendees left the auditorium with a new sense of pride and patriotism. Despite the current struggles, America’s best days are still ahead of us.