The statue at the Vietnam Memorial in Rose Park depicts an angel with massive, feathery wings lifting a soldier, whose pained expression is carved with a bit of relief, to heaven.
The original copper has faded to a dull, military green, making a fitting, though somber, backdrop to Sunday’s 15th annual Never Forget Service, sponsored by the Missoula Exchange Club.
Susan Reneau, a Missoula author who’s put together the event since 2006, organized the placement of more than 4,000 tiny American flags on the lawn in front of the Vietnam Memorial.
“Unfortunately, each year we have to add flags to our service,” Reneau said.
The largest section represented deaths from the 9/11 attacks in New York, while smaller groups represented the Pentagon and Pennsylvania attacks the same day, as well as other tragedies. The shootings in Orlando and San Bernadino, California, were represented by a small cadre of flags, as was the Boston Marathon bombing.
Reneau held two larger American flags which she and her husband took to Ground Zero in December 2001. She’s visited the site several times since then, calling it a “holy place.”
Nineteen uniformed honor and color guards representatives from the American Legion Post 27, VFW Post 209, 4th Degree of the Patriot Order of the Knights of Columbus and Missoula Civil Air Patrol marched from the Korea War Memorial, opening the service.
Tom Zeigler, a retired Missoula Rural fire fighter, chronicled his relationship with a fire crew in Queens, New York, that lasted about a decade before 9/11.
A friend who worked on the crew, Squad 288, invited Zeigler to ride with him after they met at a fire academy in Maryland. Zeigler ended up working with Squad 288, a hazmat response crew, two weeks each year for 10 years, returning to train Montana firefighters to build their own hazmat crews.
At least seven of Zeigler’s friends were never found after the attacks.
“I lost 26 friends over there,” he said. “The day of 9/11, I was home. I had the flu. I was supposed to be there.”
Sen. Jon Tester sent a letter offering his remembrance of the events of 9/11, as well as a reminder that he’s tried to “beef up” American national security during his time in office.
Sen. Steve Daines’s letter focused more on the military action since 2001, writing there have been too many lives lost to terror and Islamic extremism.
He said he takes his oath to protect the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic seriously.
“We must remain clear-eyed about the coming threats to our great nation,” he wrote, before concluding that emergency responders and those serving in the military are “our true heroes.”
Travis Deaton, Missoula Exchange Club president, spoke for the civilians who died on 9/11, opining that they would like Americans now to do more than “never forget.”
“The war on terrorism may never end, but I am proud of what our country has done since 2001,” Deaton said. “Let’s strive to eliminate terrorist activity.”
The VFW Post 209 honor guard fired a three-volley salute (more commonly known as a 21-gun salute, though that’s an inaccurate name, Reneau said), making the crowd jump at the first shot, before the second and third volleys echoed through the park.
A lone bugler, Tim Gress, stood in the trees to the side of the memorial, the lonely, haunting notes of “Taps” floated out of the horn, sounding over the gusty wind.
Reneau gave a bell 10 rings while the procession marched back to the Korean Memorial, ringing it with abandon as they neared the end of the walk, the end of the 45-minute service.
“For your generation, this is Pearl Harbor. Your generation joined the military because of 9/11,” Reneau said.
“It was so dramatic,” she said. “Everybody remembers it.”
Retired New Jersey police Lt. Steve Young moved to St. Regis in 2004. This was his first time attending the service, which he found out about from the TV news coverage last year.
Young was at Ground Zero for three days following the attacks in 2001.
“I felt it was personally necessary for myself to attend,” he said. “I think it’s a great honor that they continue to do this yearly.”