LIZ PINKEY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Tyler Calkins and Nyssa Sipley posed as Uncle Sam and Betsy Ross to distribute patriotic favors to the crowd during the annual 9/11 Remembrance Service, sponsored by the South Ward Playground Association.
Emotions ran high at the South Ward Playground Association's annual 9/11 memorial service Saturday. This year's service was held at the Hometown Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which allowed 18 veterans who reside at the center to participate.
The location change was also meaningful to program organizer Shelly Bonser, who was working at the center as a CNA on Sept. 11, 2001, when the attacks began.
"We had a job to do that day," she recalled. "All we wanted to do was sit and watch the TV, but we had a job to do."
The playground association's annual service has changed location over the years, but one thing that has remained the same is the passion and dedication of its organizers. Bonser thanked the volunteers, including her mother, Jackie Jones, who year after year, have given of themselves to make sure that the local community never forgets 9/11. Bonser also thanked the staff at the center who helped prepare for the event. Red, white and blue decorations, displays honoring those who lost their lives, the first responders, and those who have continued to fight for freedom since that fateful day, greeted guests as they arrived.
The list of speakers featured local dignitaries, including former Tamaqua Mayor Richard Hadesty, County Commissioner Frank Staudenmeirer, U.S. Congressman Tim Holden, District Attorney James Goodman, state Rep. Jerry Knowles, Clerk of Courts Steve Lucash, Tamaqua Mayor Christian Morrison, District Justice Steve Bayer, and Salvation Army Major Sharon Wispell; many of whom have become fixtures at the annual event. This year, Army veteran Peter Frye and Marine veteran Andrew Leibenguth were also featured speakers.
Many of the speakers recalled how out of tragedy, a new America arose.
"That day touched our entire country in so many ways, both heart-wrenching and heart-warming," said Staudenmeirer. "It was a day of ordinary people doing extraordinary things."
"Americans banded together," said Knowles. "We had sort of forgotten our police, our firefighters, our National Guard. This reminded us of the sacrifices that they make."
Bayer referred to the community remembrance ceremony as one of the good things that has come out of the tragic events.
Another recurring theme was the sacrifices and the dedication of those that ran into the buildings while everyone else was running out, as well as the soldiers who have continued to fight the war on terror.
"We must remember those who were answering a call of duty," said Holden.
"Let's try to remember how valuable our public servants are," said Knowles, who reminded the audience that those people were just people going to do their jobs that day, and had no idea what the day would hold for them.
"We must be thankful for what we do have and on this day, remember the heroes," said Goodman.
Nancy Willing, the wife and daughter of Tamaqua firefighters, read the "Fireman's Prayer."
Several individuals recalled how they remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news, and some told of their experiences at Ground Zero in the days following the attacks.
"I got that call to go to New York and be a part of the needs that had to be met," said Wispell. "I remember being there as they found the bodies. The many hugs, the many tears, the many 'whys.' And not having an answer," she said.
Bayer presented a slide show that moved many in the crowd to tears, as images of the twin towers and the Pentagon flashed on the screen. Bayer also recounted being in the city just days after the attack, bringing water and other supplies to those in need.
"It just puts thing into a different perspective," he said, "after being there."
One of the most heartfelt speeches came from Andrew Leibenguth, a Marine veteran who was injured in the line of duty. Leibenguth started by handing out a list of those who have lost their lives since the War on Terror began. The list stretched across the entire front row which was made up of veterans. He stressed the importance of understanding and appreciating the sacrifices that the troops make on behalf of the American people.
Army veteran Peter Frye compared the events of 9/11 to those of Pearl Harbor and the assassination of JFK.
"A lot of times, what happens to the United States, affects the entire world," he said. "I hope we don't have a lot more of them."
The invocation was provided by the Rev. Ed Noftz. Judy Mattson provided several vocal selections and Brad and Kathy Murphy provided the musical background. The program closed with everyone in attendance singing "God Bless the U.S.A."
Following the ceremony, refreshments were provided by the nutrition staff of the center.
"We were just so pleased with the turnout and the support," concluded Bonser. "It's a very emotional day for all of us. It was nice that the veterans could see the kind of support that they have from the community. They don't get out to see that very often."