INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN The sky was overcast and the fog was thick as school children boarded the signature yellow bus, bikers geared up and mounted their hogs, and those in uniform, now and in the past, donned their colors or berets, all preparing in their own way to reflect on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, at the International Peace Garden memorial service held Thursday.
At five minutes before 11 a.m., a single bagpiper led a procession of special guest speakers, customs agents, park rangers, sheriffs, Canadian Mounties, North Dakota Honor Guard, current soldiers, vets and board members from the Peace Tower near the Peace Chapel to the memorial site, just yards from where 10 steel beams lie, salvaged from the burning embers that engulfed them seven years ago.
At the last minute, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Manitoba Premier Gary Doer were unable to attend and the fog kept the Black Hawk helicopter grounded in Bismarck, but that didn't keep attendance figures down estimated at 350 to 400 people. After both national anthems were sung, Doug Hevenor, International Peace Garden CEO and master of ceremonies, opened the service with a plan for a new direction.
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN •
The Peace Tower stands near the Peace Chapel at the end of the formal garden. Weather didn’t stop more than 350 people from attending the service at the International Peace Garden, which has held a memorial every year since Sept. 11, 2001.
"We want to take this to a new level and focus on what's happened since then ... we need to remember the tragic events, but we need to think about the people who have left their countries to represent and protect us," Hevenor said.
Hevenor called on those present to look beyond the immense tragedy of that one day and embrace the freedoms we enjoy and those people who fight overseas to protect them. Representatives from North Dakota, Manitoba, and the greater United States and Canada echoed those sentiments and more, each relaying their own stories of sadness and triumph.
Merv Tweed, a member of Parliament for Brandon-Souris, said the events of Sept. 11, in which 24 Canadians were killed, "brought home the real and destructive consequences of terror ... but also the power of the human spirit of those who survived."
Kimberly Durand-Proud, from the USA Consulate Toronto, spoke of the shared values of freedom, peace and democracy between the two countries and of a history of unparalleled cooperation.
"We have the longest undefended border in the world and the largest bilateral economic partnership ... in the face of evil, we can provide help and hope to each other."
Bonnie Korzeniowski, a member of the Manitoba legislature, reiterated Canada's promise to defend democracy, telling of how six Canadian infantry died in Afghanistan this year and the many other Canadians who are "prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom." She said that the initiation of a "Freedom Walk" in the garden symbolized a "freedom from fear" and announced the Canadian government had recently authorized to double the operating grant for the Peace Garden.
The message of keynote speaker Dr. Earl Beal was simple: Freedom comes at a price, but you must move beyond fear. He spoke of his involvement as the director of the Family Support Center at Grand Forks Air Force Base on Sept. 11 in personal terms, telling two stories of tragic loss.
The first was of a troubled 11-year-old boy from Washington, D.C., who turned his behavior around in the fifth grade and starting excelling at school and in life. As a result of his self-improvement, he was awarded a trip to California by National Geographic, but his flight, 77, never made it, crashing into the Pentagon.
The second story was of a longtime war veteran, Max Beilke, who was the last official soldier to leave Vietnam in 1973. On Sept. 11, a fellow employee at the Pentagon called him over to watch the news unfold on television. Less than two minutes after he arrived, the plane that carried the little 11-year-old boy smashed into the area of the building where he stood. Beal said his family had a hard time dealing with the news because his office wasn't in the area of the crash.
He also spoke about FDR's "Four Freedoms" speech, which he gave during his 1941 inaugural address, in a time of uncertainty and hostility not unlike today. He emphasized the fourth freedom from fear, urging all Americans and Canadians to move beyond the fear caused by Sept. 11 into a "tradition of not being afraid," which, he said, the Freedom Walk would start.
After a Sept. 11 tribute was sung by Emily Custer, a 17-year-old high school junior from East Grand Forks, Minn., attendees were given a few moments to reflect and stretch before the Freedom Walk began.
"It was astounding, the aura really captured the significance of the day," said 2nd Lt. Kidron Vestal of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base.
Cpl. Terry Lucier of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been to every Sept. 11 memorial service held at the Peace Garden.
"It's nice to see so many people out despite the weather - it shows that it is important," he said. Having witnessed people's reaction to the ceremony over the years, Lucier said he believes people are on their way to returning to what their lives were before, but that they haven't completed the emotional journey yet.
After the walk, Hevenor said of Beal, "He's genuine, from the heart and shoots from the hip. He gave the best summary of 9/11 I have ever heard and the eye contact he received from the crowd warmed my heart."
There were five school buses parked near the lot, traveling as far away as Rolla in the south and Glenboro, Manitoba, in the north to attend Thursday's service. For Heather Juntunen, a teacher in Rolla, this is an annual trip. She has taken the fifth-grade class to the memorial service every year, but she said this year was especially touching because this year's senior class was the first group she took.
When the event ended around 12:30 p.m., the fog had lifted and rays of sunshine broke through the clouds to illuminate the Peace Tower once more.