Sept. 11 in Lovettsville was packed with ceremonies from 8:30 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon on Friday, honoring the victims of the terrorist attacks 19 years ago and the families of those who died in battle.
Town leaders held a 9/11 ceremony on the town square with multiple moments of silence and stories of those who experienced the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The town square was also adorned with 3,000 American flags stuck in the ground to honor the 2,977 people who died in the attacks on the Pentagon, World Trade Center and aboard Flight 93.
Mayor Nate Fontaine said the gathering was meant to help residents remember how the nation changed and continued to change through the years following the attacks. “Flags were on every house, every corner, every flagpole,” he said about the landscape in America in the days and months that followed 9/11.
Resident Thomas Mawson also gave his account of Sept. 11 19 years ago. On that day, he was 19 years old, serving in the U.S. Navy and working in the Washington Navy Yard. Mawson explained he didn’t comprehend the gravity of the attacks until the second twin tower was struck. “The second plane hit and I realized we had a problem,” he said.
Following the town’s ceremony, hundreds of people visited the One Family Brewing property south of town to witness the unveiling of the nation’s 65th, and the region’s first, Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, which honors the mothers, fathers and families of America’s fallen soldiers—commonly referred to as Gold Star families.
Once unveiled, dozens of Gold Star family members placed photos of their deceased loved ones at the base of the monument, many with tears running down their cheeks while doing so.
During the ceremony, One Family Brewing Owner Dave Keuhner, who worked through the last 14 months to raise more than $52,000 for the memorial on his property, told attendees that his life was spared on Sept. 11, 2001. Keuhner said the flight to California he canceled four weeks prior to the terrorist attacks ended up being the flight that hit the Pentagon.
“This is your memorial,” he told the Gold Star families in attendance.
Hershel “Woody” Williams, a former Marine and the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from Iowa Jima who set up the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation to install Gold Star Memorials across the nation, said the sacrifices of American soldiers must never be forgotten. He mentioned that out of the more than 1,000 monuments in Washington, DC, there are none that honor Gold Star families. He suggested Keuhner go to Washington to make that happen.
Williams emphasized that the spirit America possesses is unique. “You can’t find it anywhere,” he said.
Mike Ryan, whose father U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. William Ryan was shot down and killed in Vietnam at the age of 25 in 1969 when Mike was one day shy of his first birthday, said U.S. service members have “hero blood.” “Many of you here today have that blood,” he told the Gold Star families.
“Nothing can adequately prepare families for this,” he said. “That’s what this memorial is really all about, is never forgetting.”
Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha—who fought alongside U.S. Army Spc. Stephan Mace, a former Purcellville resident who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 and was awarded the Medal of Honor in February 2013—told the families there is no replacing their loved ones.
“They wrote that blank check for the country and they paid in full,” he said. “We will always remember and we will do it together.”
Lovettsville’s Gold Star Memorial is made of black granite and features one side that reads “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.” The other side tells a story through four, 2,500-pound panels with themes of homeland, family, patriot, and sacrifice. A 30-foot flagpole displaying the American flag has also been installed.
To pay for the memorial, more than $52,000 was raised through individual donations, beer sales and events throughout the last 14 months. Some costs were offset by donations from certain area companies. Luck Stone donated rock to distribute around the memorial and Vulcan Materials Co. donated the concrete for the base. The memorial installation project was managed by Matt Simpson, the vice president of the Loudoun-based Amazing Outdoors contracting company.
There are now 65 Gold Star Memorials located across 48 U.S. states, with 75 more in progress.