MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- One year after America received a tragic wake-up call from the world's terrorist organizations, members of the Yuma community, including those aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, commemorated the event that claimed the lives of thousands of Americans and the innocence of a nation.
A flag-raising memorial ceremony was held on the station parade deck the morning of Sept. 11, attended by the station commanding officer, Col. James J. Cooney, and more than 500 station Marines, Sailors and civilian personnel. Marines also represented the station and the Corps at various Yuma area schools at patriotic ceremonies.
The overall mood at each of the ceremonies was one of solemn respect for the victims of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, but there was also a resounding feeling of moral and spiritual resolve and defiance against the fear of terror.
"It's a beautiful day. I know for many it's a sad day, and it will be for many years to come, but we're going to get beyond our sadness today," said Cooney in his speech to the servicemembers, civilian employees and emergency rescue crews in attendance at the station flagpole ceremony.
"I want to give thanks to those of you who are in uniform, and those of you who have been in uniform, because you are heroes to me," Cooney said, noting that the minute the servicemembers began their military training they took the first steps toward becoming heroes to the nation.
At each ceremony the losses of a year ago were remembered but not dwelt upon.
"We didn't want to minimize the tragedy of 9/11, but we didn't want to focus on the sadness," said L.B. Gilmer, principal of Rolle Elementary School. "We want the kids to know that our country is strong, despite the tragedies."
Gilmer and the Rolle faculty invited the Marine Wing Support Squadron-371 color guard to perform the honor of raising the colors and Arizona state flag at the school's flagpole, which the color guard did with the utmost professionalism.
"It's always an honor to represent the Marine Corps in such a formal manner," said Sgt. Nicholas Babcock, the squadron color sergeant. "I think it's very appropriate to be here on this day."
In a similar show of support for Yuma students, Capt. Scott Luckie, Marine Attack Squadron-211 logistics officer, spoke to the eighth grade students of Gila Vista Junior High School.
"It's important for the students to have a different perspective on what happened," Luckie said. "It's important for them to get more of an explanation on some of the things that happened, and what we've done about it since, to help make the community and country safer."
The students responded to the presentations with genuine interest in the sober subject matter.
"I think it's great (that Luckie spoke to the class) because it lets you know all about what happened last year, Sept. 11," said Javier Ayala, 13, a Gila Vista student. "Why did they do this to us? What did we do to them? Look at all those people who suffered in the crash."
The teachers at the various schools said they realized what a source of inspiration and information that Marines could be for the serious subject of 9/11.
"I think the base is an important resource and it's part of our duty to take advantage of that and utilize the skills these guys have," said Molly Blake, an eighth grade teacher at Gila Vista.
"To us, it made it more significant having the Marines here, since we have such a strong population of students from the base," Gilmer said of the Rolle populace. "The armed forces stand for our country, and the Marine color guard here helped the ceremony have a greater significance."
The presence of Marines made a strong impact on the parents in attendance as well.
"That was awesome having the color guard here. It really put the icing on the cake and made an impression with the kids," said Paula Austin, who along with her son Connor, 9, a Rolle student, are military family members.
The sixth grade class at Alice Byrne Elementary School wrote letters of appreciation to the Marines and sailors of the air station, which were passed on to Sgt. Maj. James McNeil, station sergeant major, for distribution to the station servicemembers. The rest of the elementary school's students sang patriotic songs and learned about the values of heroism, according to Sgt. David Bryant, station public affairs, who accepted the letters on behalf of the station.
Speaking about the heroes in uniform, Cooney noted that the Marines, Sailors and other members of the armed forces have important questions to ask themselves.
"I know I wake up and ask myself 'am I doing the things I swore to uphold and defend way back when I stepped on the yellow footprints,' and I hope you're doing the same, because your country is expecting you to do that, and your country will witness you do that in the upcoming months," Cooney said, submitting that the war on terrorism is far from over and that station Marines and Sailors may be called into action sooner than they may think.
"A number of you will be called upon to serve, and you will serve well, and you will distinguish yourself and make your country proud," said Cooney. "The issue is not in doubt that this (war on terrorism) will play out."
While some of the audience members at each of the ceremonies had tears well up and trickle down their cheeks in remembrance of the horror of last September, everyone had their chins up in a way that seemed to display a determination to not allow the terrorists to win.
"The objective of the terrorists is to change our way of life, and one thing we can do to counter their objective is to live our lives. By being here today and doing what we're doing and having the freedom to do what we're doing is just that an overt act to counter what the terrorists want us to do," Cooney said. "I encourage you, from this moment forward, to go forward and live your lives as fully as possible."