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Memorial evokes powerful emotions, memories

Originally posted September 12, 2011

Union Schools

Superintendent Dr. Cathy Burden and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Jr. lay wreaths of remembrance during ceremonies commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks took place at Tulsa Union Schools 6th and 7th Grade Center. Courtesy KRMG

 Courtesy KRMG By Russell Mills

TULSA, Okla. — A remembrance ceremony early Sunday morning served many purposes and evoked a range of emotions.

It kicked off the annual "Week of Remembrance." It marked the 10th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in American history. It acknowledged the sacrifices of America's veterans, its firefighters, and police officers, and emergency medical personnel. (MORE INFORMATION about the week of remembrance)

Not least importantly, it served as the opening ceremony for a visit of The Moving Wall, a mobile, smaller version of the Vietnam War Memorial.

And it offered a glimpse of what makes America unique in the world, and indeed unique in the history of the world.

Gathered at Union Schools' 6th and 7th Grade center were men, women, and children from all walks of life. They represented any number of ethnicities, religious beliefs, vocations.

There were veterans from every war the United States has fought since World War II, including men who were spit on and reviled when they came home from Vietnam.

There were family members of people who were in the World Trade Center.

There were dignitaries, including Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and Union Superintendent Dr. Cathy Burden (CLICK HERE to hear an extended interview with Mayor Bartlett).

And of course, there were the youngsters, many of whom may not have really understood the significance of the day, nor why their moms and dads had tears in their eyes as they heard the names of Oklahomans still missing in action from the Vietnam War, or paused to honor the emergency responders who risk their lives for others each and every day.

The ceremony began with an invocation. AFJROTC Lt. Col. Ron McCool offered the prayer, which said in part: "We pray, Lord, as we commemorate this event, that we all become one people again."

Then Sr. Staff Sgt. Daniel Snow invoked the memory of Oklahoma's soldiers still missing in action from Vietnam in what is known as a "Tiger Cage Ceremony."

The tiger cage is a small, bamboo cage which was used as a torture device on captured prisoners by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Prisoners could not stand or even sit upright in them, and were sometimes confined in them for weeks or even months.

The ceremony involved the reading of the names of the 34 Oklahomans still MIA, and as each name was read someone approached the "tiger cage" and hung a replica of the missing man's dogtag.

Next, the "POW Pledge of Allegiance" was read. It consisted of the pledge, interspersed with statements from a POW.

"One nation, indivisible...I am one man, I have one country: America," it went in part.

"I will pledge under the love of God. It is my right, my privilege, my duty; I have earned it."

Next, Mayor Bartlett and Dr. Burden placed wreaths of remembrance before the Moving Wall, and the hymn "Amazing Grace" was played.

Then, the ceremony turned to the events of September 11, 2001.

"Our nation was attacked in a manner that was totally unimaginable at that time," said SMSgt. Snow.

"But at the end of that horrific day, a new definition of heroism emerged. Out of the ashes of Ground Zero, a  newly awakened American spirit rose up, and spread out across this great land."

He then asked the crowd to "please take a moment to reflect on where you were and what you were doing at the moment when America lost her innocent, but refound her soul."

Then followed the Alan Jackson song, "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?"

Next, a police and fire department honor guard paid tribute with items placed before a 9-11 Memorial consisting of a pile of rubble and debris festooned with flags, including one vowing that "We Will Never Forget."

A policeman's hat was used to symbolize the lives lost, as well as those still living, dedicated to protecting society.

Next, a firemen's helmet as a thank you to those who rush into harm's way so others may live.

The third item was an EMT bag, and symbolized the people who risk their lives to ease the pain and suffering of others.

Finally, a child's teddy bear was used to represent the hopes and dreams of all the parents who lost children, and the children who lost parents on 9-11.

Then followed a traditional 21-gun salute, and the playing of "Taps."

Members of the Union Schools AFJROTC (Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) then moved the "tiger cage" into its position of honor before the wall, and SMSgt. Snow explained how a sentinel will remain on duty, walking a path from the tiger cage to a "Soldier's Cross," created using a foot locker, a pair of boots, a weapon, and a helmet stacked bottom to top.

The sentinel takes exactly 21 steps, pauses 21 seconds, then retraces his or her path to the other end of the boardwalk, and pauses for 21 seconds, then begins again. The vigil replicates the ceremony which takes place at the Tomb of the Unknowns near Washington, D.C.

In conclusion, MSSgt. Snow told the audience: "It was our goal to turn a children's playground into a sanctuary of reflection and remembrance. Only you can tell us if we did a good job or not.

"If this place...touches your heart," he continued, "then we have succeeded in our mission."

The Moving Wall will remain open 24 hours a day until Sept. 18, with an honor guard and a sentinel on duty at all times.