Gratitude And Unity Mark Local Patriot Day Observances in Ohio County

A spirit of unity and remembrance marked an interfaith service at Temple Shalom in Wheeling on Monday as local congregations observed Patriot Day — the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Rabbi Joshua Lief led the service in honor of those who lost their lives in New York, Washington, D.C. and a field near Shanksville, Pa. on Sept. 11, 2001.

The service began with the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, followed by a hearty round of applause from those gathered for firefighters and members of law enforcement in the crowd.

Among those in attendance were Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Fire Chief Larry Helms, the police department’s honor guard and Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott.

“We need to stand together to make tomorrow better than today,” Lief said.

Many leaders of the religious community turned out to pay respect toward first responders and members of the military who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others — including those who have lost their lives.

“Bless those that race into danger, while others are fleeing. Fill our hearts with gratitude for their noble service,” said the Rev. Darrell Cummings of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple.

The Rev. Mark Seitz of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church spoke of fighting for justice and bringing those who serve home to safety, while the Rev. John Oerter of Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church told the crowd that all must turn to their communities to better the nation, and Msgr. Joseph Peterson of St. Michael Catholic Church spoke about the importance of peace.

Elliott shared his own memories of Sept. 11, 2001, when he was living in Washington, D.C. He said he was three blocks away from the White House when the airplane slammed into the Pentagon that chaotic Tuesday morning.

“It shattered the illusion that war only happens in other countries. America was under attack, and it was something I have never experienced before. I had never felt so helpless,” Elliott said.

Elliott described the sounds and smells he experienced that day, and how the tragedy brought people together in a way that hadn’t been seen in a very long time.

The Rev. Jacob Steele of Christ United Methodist Church prayed for all victims of terror and defenders of freedom.

“Thank you for the sacrifice to all who laid down their lives in our defense,” Steele said.

Lief closed the service with assurances that the events of 9/11 and the lives lost that day will never be forgotten.

Earlier on Monday, the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce held an appreciation luncheon on Market Plaza downtown. Police officers and firefighters were treated to a catered luncheon on a beautiful late summer day much like the one 16 years ago when life as Americans knew it changed forever.

Many of the first responders in attendance weren’t old enough to be on the job yet when the 9/11 attacks occurred. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t felt the impact of that tragic day.

Many attending the luncheon said they appreciated the gesture and were thankful to be able to sit down for a meal with fellow workers in uniform. Fire trucks and police cruisers were parked nearby, slowing traffic on Market Street as motorists gawked to see what was happening.

Former Mayor Andy McKenzie, president of the chamber’s board, was on hand to greet officers and firefighters. He said he appreciates the work they do each and every day, noting his late father, Ron McKenzie, had retired from the Wheeling Fire Department.

Ohio County Commissioner Orphy Klempa, membership chair for the chamber, said, “We always appreciate first responders in times of dire need. It’s nice to do something for them, treat them right for what they do.”

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