BEND AREA — A solemn Patriot Day ceremony Friday at Wahama High School not only remembered those affected by the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, but also paid tribute to the first responders who continue to risk their lives for others.
The school’s Rho Kappa History Honor Society led the ceremony. A slide show exposed the students, some of whom were not yet born at the time, to the horrific events and their aftermath.
Rho Kappa member Christopher Hesson gave a reading written by his father, Capt. Heath Hesson, of the Huntington Fire Department and one of the first responders in attendance. Honor society members Madison VanMeter and Rebecca Gerlach also presented readings.
Keynote speaker for the ceremony was Isaiah Pauley, president of Rho Kappa. He spoke of watching a documentary of survivors giving their stories and said the collective narrative reminded him of Hell.
Pauley challenged his fellow students to ask themselves, “What if?”
“What if your lungs breathed in the smoke-littered air?” he asked. “What if your skin felt the sweltering heat? What if your hands touched the lifeless people? What if your ears heard the desperate screams?”
“But even more than that,” Pauley said, “What if you were the ones looked upon to solve the problem?”
He told of the police officers, emergency medical technicians and other first responders who answered the calls for help — walking into the flames, breaking into the burning buildings and parting the traffic with sirens.
Pauley said first responders love, run with courage and give their all. He noted they not only exist in New York City, Washington, D.C., and the woods of Pennsylvania, but in Mason County, as well.
“I pray that our community never has to experience the horrors of 9/11,” said Pauley. “May we never have to suffer such heartbreak. But, thank God that we, too, have men and women who are willing to love, be courageous and give their all. In fact, many of them are here with us today. And to them, I say thank you for your service.”
Rho Kappa member Tilar Darst introduced the first responders in attendance, including several Wahama alumni. Attending were Capt. Heath Hesson, Huntington Fire Department; Lt. Jeff Fields, Mason County Sheriff’s Department; Patrolman Tyler Deweese, Mason Police Department; Chief J.D. Reynolds, Mason Police Department; Firefighter Steven Sigman, New Haven Fire Department; Firefighter Matthew Shell, supervisor Mason County 911; Firefighter Tygart Phalen, New Haven Fire Department; Firefighter Scott Riggs, New Haven Fire Department; Firefighter Howard Wood, Mason Volunteer Fire Department and EMS;
Mason County Sheriff Greg Powers; Sgt. Joe Finnicum, West Virginia State Police; Trooper Brian McCormick, West Virginia State Police; Trooper Scott Allen, West Virginia State Police; Firefighter Austin Ohlinger, EMS; Deputy Matt Stewart, Mason County Sheriff’s Department; Lt. Steven Greene, Mason County Sheriff’s Department; and Firefighter George VanMatre, Mason Volunteer Fire Department.
The White Falcon Band played a musical selection to conclude the ceremony. A reception was held for the first responders following the assembly.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing who lives in Mason County.