Like small hot air balloons, floating lanterns were lit and released Sunday night from the hundreds who gathered at Metro Beach Metropark to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The lantern lighting concluded an event that began at 5 p.m. with live music; military, police and fire vehicle displays; plane and helicopter flyovers; and other activities that made the event an enjoyable night out for local families.
But the “Michigan Remembers” tribute – co-sponsored by Huron-Clinton Metroparks and CBS Radio Detroit – largely served as a solemn memorial to the victims of Sept. 11 and a thank you to Michigan’s military and public safety personnel.
“It’s a special moment not only for the Metroparks, it’s a special moment for us as a country,” said Huron-Clinton Metroparks Police Chief George Phifer. “This (event) gives us a sense of purpose in terms of what’s important.”
Military, police and fire personnel were present to speak with attendees, including troops from four units that had recently returned from Afghanistan.
Personnel were present from the Harrison Township Fire Department, Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, Huron-Clinton Metroparks Police Department, Department of Homeland Security, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Air National Guard, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 154.
Attendees also signed a banner that will be sent to troops in Afghanistan in about a week, said Metroparks marketing manager Kassie Kretzschmar. Other banners on display at other parks will be sent to Michigan police and fire departments.
As the night wore on, more people poured into the park. At about 8:15 p.m., a formal tribute ceremony began consisting of bagpipes, a color guard, 21-gun salute, taps and remarks from parks and radio representatives as well as U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.
Shortly after 9 p.m., the crowd released the lanterns into the night sky.
Among those in attendance was U.S. Navy Commander George Degener from the Navy Operational Support Center at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Degener at 31 other Navy reservists flew out to provide support to U.S. military bases in the Mediterranean, he said.
“The NOSC Detroit from Day 1 has been supporting the war against terrorism around the entire world,” he said. “They’ve had service members give the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and in Iraq, so we definitely feel that what’s going on (at Sunday’s event) is very worthwhile and it’s very beneficial to us to come here and support it.”
The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Msgt. Brian Henke was a reservist in the Michigan Air National Guard when he was called to Selfridge. He has been on active duty ever since.
“Being a military guy, I will never forget that day and what happened – how they threatened our security, all the lives that were lives,” said Henke, who was in attendance.
Marc Ferguson, of Rochester Hills, said watching the brave first-responders who entered the World Trade Center towers was what drove him to his career as a full-time firefighter and paramedic for the City of St. Clair Shores.
“Just seeing what those guys were doing that day – running into those buildings, helping those people, not really caring that their lives were at risk – that’s really what drew me to this job,” he said.