Thousands in Waco yesterday mourned the first responders who perished in last week’s fire and explosion in the town of West. Family, friends and supporters were quietly moved by the speakers, but loudly embraced President Obama, there with the First Lady.
There were common, heartfelt themes in Thursday’s memorial for the ten fallen firefighters and two EMS workers. One - Amazing Grace, played by uniformed bagpipers. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn shared another - that these volunteers were heroes.
”When the call went out for help, these men, along with countless others in West , ran immediately toward the danger, not away from it, they ran toward it , looking for a way they might help.”
Cornyn introduced President Barack Obama to the packed arena that also included hundreds of firefighters and emergency workers from across Texas and the nation. The Senator thanked the President and First Lady for being there, and the crowd stood, as Mr. Obama sounded another theme of this memorial – Community. He started by saying that while the eyes of a nation may have been fixed this past week on Boston, American’s hearts were also here.
“To families and neighbors grappling with unbearable loss, we are here to say you are not alone, you are not forgotten. We may not all live here in Texas, but we’re neighbors too. We’re Americans too. and we stand with you and we do not forget and we’ll be there even after the cameras leave.”
Obama said few non-Texans have ever heard of West. But now, they know the small town as solid, familiar and true, where residents look after each other. He said Instead of changing who you are, this tragedy simply reveals who you’ve always been.
‘We need people who so love their neighbors as themselves that they’re willing to lay down their lives for them. America needs towns like West. That’s what makes this country great is towns like West.”
Governor Perry praised the first responders as people who know there’s no such thing as a ‘routine emergency.’ The stories of those who died, he said, are inspiring and heartbreaking, like that of Kenneth Lucky Harris.
“There’s the Dallas fire captain who was off duty but responded anyway because his community was threatened.”
It was the Dallas Fire Department that carried out an old tradition - sounding a bell, for each fallen firefighter. The names were read, followed by a single ring.
“Captain Kenneth Lucky Harris, Dallas Fire Department…”
Taps was played. A folded American flag and helmet were presented to each family. Bishop Joe Vasquez gave the benediction.