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Wichita remembers 9/11 with doves, prayer, song and service

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 11, 2011, at 12:34 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 28, 2013, at 2:13 p.m.

— Forty white doves took flight Sunday morning in Wichita, soaring into a sky that was as bright blue as the one above the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11 a decade ago.

A few clouds spotted the sky by afternoon, when 45 volunteers came to Derby's High Park to recognize the day by helping clean the park.

In Andover, several hundred people of all faiths gathered for songs, prayers and dance at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.

Across the area, people found different ways to reflect, remember and honor those who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the ensuing wars.

In Wichita, the doves were released as a part of a remembrance service at the Kansas Firefighters Museum.

They soared over a crowd of about 250 people, who were reminded that this country has risen up, rebuilt and remains free since those terrorist attacks took nearly 3,000 lives.

"We are America. We will always remember," said Dottie Conboy, who provided the rock doves and helped organize the event.

It was fitting that the service was held at the museum, 1300 S. Broadway. Not only did 341 New York City firefighters die on 9/11, it was also the day that ground was broken on the memorial next to the museum. The memorial honors more than 100 Kansas firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

The service began with a flyover of two planes from the Jayhawk Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.

Color guards included firefighters and students in ROTC programs at Hamilton and Mead middle schools, providing a contrast between two generations with far different memories of 9/11.

In delivering a prayer, Forest Cornwell, pastor at West Side Church of God, said, "May we have a strength of unity and overcome the little things that divide us."

Among those attending was Rebecca Chandler, who was the first female firefighter for the Wichita Fire Department. She watched as her daughter, Jessica Chandler, sang "God Bless America."

Conboy, an emergency dispatcher for the Kansas Turnpike Authority, read a poem she wrote honoring those who died on 9/11. She also recited raw numbers, bringing tears and a hush to the crowd.

Included in her list was the length of the time between when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the first tower and United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa.

Just 77 minutes.

"Seventy-seven minutes of terror and destruction, and America was forever changed," Conboy said.

Also recognized Sunday at the service were Wichita and Sedgwick County firefighters who went to New York days after 9/11 to deliver funds raised and see if they could be of help.

One of those was Wichita firefighter Tod Newlin.

The group didn't have the equipment or security clearance to help at ground zero, so they turned their focus on going to a number of fire houses.

"We asked, 'What can we do for you? Clean your engines?' Newlin said. "They said, 'You know, just sit and talk to us.' So that's what we did."

Earlier Sunday, firefighters across the city pulled engines outside their stations and stood at attention for a moment of silence. They did it twice, in recognition of the collapse of the two towers.

At Derby's High Park, volunteers swarmed the grounds picking up trash and putting away items used the previous two days during a barbecue cookoff.

Derby Public Works Coordinator Amy Akers organized the event as part of the National Day of Service, an annual event started in 2009 to honor those who died on 9/11 and to encourage helping others.

Allison Hall, 9, who came with her Derby Girl Scout Troop 40625, knows about 9/11.

"I'm really sad," she said.

High Park is also where she comes to play, which is why she was busy stuffing a bag with trash.

"I don't want this place to be dirty and dull," she said. "I want it to be clean and colorful."

Jody and Katrina Kipp and their daughter, Samantha, 6, carried plastic plumbing pipes from the park to a storage area.

"We look for opportunities for all three of us to volunteer," Katrina Kipp said, "and we feel it's important to start Samantha early."

In Andover, the all-faiths service included songs from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. The program was divided into three segments: remembrance, struggle and hope.

"On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event so awesome and incomprehensible that it has no name other than the date, this time is both for memory and a memorial," said Rabbi Michael Davis, of Wichita's Congregation Emanu-El.

"It is a memorial for the New York skyline, for the thousands of lives that were lost, the relatives now gone, and the security that so many of us felt when we went to bed on Sept. 10th."

An uncomfortable moment came when the Rev. Lois Harder, co-pastor of Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, spoke of her struggles to forgive.

"My struggle has been to forgive those who took us to war after that fateful day — whose response when we had the attention and goodwill of the whole world was not to breathe and reflect and work cooperatively with the world wide community, but to lash out, to turn inward to think of vengeance and retribution and aggression," she said.

A few people in the crowd gasped. One man walked out.

The program was interspersed with music from Friends University's Singing Quakers, Hesston's College's Bel Canto Choir, Newman University's Troubadours, cellist Jakub Omsky, baritone soloist Anthony Brown and Hindu dancers.

"We remember 9/11 by telling stories," said the Rev. Gary Blaine, minister at University Congregational Church. "We are still charged, I believe, with the responsibility of running toward those who come out of burning buildings, towards those running out of defaced mosques, those who come out of synagogues that have been marred, black churches that have been burned and bombed. As men and women of faith, we need to be running toward each other to embrace. And if we do, we will collapse in each other's arms and it will be a truly sacred moment of remembrance."

Maher Musleh's voice caught with emotion at times as he spoke.

"Due to extremism and a twisted ideology practiced by brainwashed individuals, thousands of human beings from all walks of life, all different faiths paid the ultimate price," said Musleh, of the Wichita Muslim Public Affairs Council. "Muslims were also targeted and killed that day ... Evil may not be understood, but it should be overcome."

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