Tolling Of The Bell

Aric Bower, son of retired Roanoke Police Sergeant Jeff Bower, plays Amazing Grace on bagpipes during Sunday’s Procession.
Aric Bower, son of retired Roanoke Police Sergeant Jeff Bower, plays Amazing Grace on bagpipes during Sunday’s Procession.

by Valerie Garner

9/11 Remembrance Ceremony

The sky was an extraordinary bright blue with a few stray fluffy clouds and bright streaks of sun slowly ebbing as the time for Roanoke Valley’s 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony drew near. The commemoration was a combined effort by Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem City and Vinton.

Looking toward the sky one could spot public safety “look outs” perched above 202 Market and Cornerstone Bar and Grill – Binoculars watching for the unthinkable.

If the unthinkable happened in Roanoke “our local first responders, like those on 9/11 would suit-up, rush into the fire, do their duty with courage and serve their fellow man – that’s their sacrifice – their sacred duty,” said Roanoke City’s Mayor David Bowers.

Charlotte Moore, Roanoke County Vice Chair, Board of Supervisors, read the poem “The Last Alarm” by Jim Martinez dedicated to the children of fallen firefighters. Some let the tears flow while others held it in – marked though by solemn faces.

The final Tolling of the Bell was followed by “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes that were played by Aric Bower, son of retired Roanoke Police Sergeant Jeff Bower. That brought out some tearful holdouts. Every detail of the ceremony went flawlessly.

The bell was rung by retired Virginia Beach Battalion Chief Mike Brown who spent 19 days at ground zero operating and directing recovery and rescue missions. “He knows all too well the sacrifices made on September 11,” said Roanoke County’s Fire Chief Richard Burch, Jr.

The Tolling of the Bell dates back to telegraph days and the red fire alarm boxes. Fire departments used this method to tap out a signal to communicate that a firefighter or other public safety officer was killed in the line of duty.

The signal is five measured dashes, a pause, five more dashes, a pause, and then a final five dashes; a is a signal of honor and respect for all firefighters who have made the ultimate sacrifice protecting their community.

The playing of bagpipes at fire stations goes back 150 years. Because Irish immigrants were not very welcome in America in those days, the intensive labor and dangerous jobs went to them. Bagpipes took on a solemn dignity for the Irish firefighters. The toughest Irishman had permission to cry when the mournful sound bellowed for a fallen comrade.

Speeches were inspiring; the posting of the colors included flags of all the participating localities with the Virginia State flag and U.S. flag taking center stage. “The flag that represents the greatest nation on earth,” said Bradley Grose, Mayor of Vinton.

The Salem High School band played uplifting music and Michelle Corbin, age 5, playfully helped direct the band.

There were hundreds gathered, including sheriffs, fire chiefs, police chiefs, state police, elected officials and others. Congressman Bob Goodlatte was the keynote speaker and spoke of how “life for all Americans has changed.”

A standing ovation came for the Reverend Bryan Lawrence who suffered severe injury as a Roanoke City police officer when he wrestled a fleeing suspect to the ground. His injury sill causes him to walk with difficulty. Lawrence gave the Benediction.

Afterwards, Brenda Hale, an Army veteran, said how much the ceremony meant to her. She was a Sergeant 1st class from 1965-1978. Hale is President of the NAACP Roanoke Branch.

Council member Anita Price was barely audible through her emotion when she said, “God is good and his mercy endures forever – he loves our country and will never leave us.”