MARSHALL -- A hush fell over the crowd and several thousand faces all lifted toward the sky as two F16 fighter planes crossed a backdrop of brilliant blue sky.
The military flyover signaled the official start of a 9/11 remembrance and Memorial Park dedication ceremony Sunday morning in Marshall.
The event -- the largest in southwest Minnesota to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- was attended by residents from across the region, and most notably, personnel representing area fire departments, there to honor their public safety brethren who died while performing their duties 10 years ago.
At the centerpiece of Marshall's latest park, located downtown at the intersection of Main Street and College Drive, is a piece of steel beam taken from one of the World Trade Center buildings felled in the attacks.
Surrounded by a framework of American flags at the beginning of the day's events, it was later unveiled by local firefighters and decorated with a red-white-and-blue wreath display in a formal military procession.
The upright beam is surrounded by pavers set into a circular patio area, each representing a person whose life was lost on 9/11.
"This is a place to remember, a place to reflect and a place of resilience," said Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes during the ceremony, which had begun with prayer and readings of the names of the people who lost their lives earlier in the morning, with times corresponding to the events that happened on 9/11. "This morning program is really the reverent part. This afternoon will be more of a celebration of our community, our state, our country -- a celebration of freedom -- and we're fortunate to be able to do both."
Among the dignitaries present was Colonel William Lieder of the Minnesota National Guard 84th Troop Command, who noted that Sunday's weather was similar to that of the date 10 years prior, which dawned bright and beautiful but quickly turned into the darkest day in our nation's history.
"I didn't believe that anything was wrong, didn't believe we were being attacked," he recalled. "I didn't even consider it. But our country was attacked by what we call terrorists. I call 'em cowards. ... But we did something that the terrorists didn't plan for. We came together. They inadvertently fueled our love of our country, our patriotism. ... I ask that you never forget, never ever forget."
State Sen. Gary Dahms also spoke of the "incomprehensible evil ... that changed our world forever," but also reflected on how Americans came together and displayed "the very finest human instincts" in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
"The centerpiece of this park -- a steel beam from the World Trade Center -- is serving as a reminder that they can't break the American spirit that binds us together," Dahms said. "The story of 9/11 is a story of courage and hope. America is ours to keep, ours to protect, ours to pass on to future generations."
Representing Minnesota's public safety personnel, State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl thanked the people of Marshall for making sure southwest Minnesota's residents will never forget what transpired on 9/11 and the sacrifices so many people made on that date.
"It doesn't hurt to put the 9/11 images back on TV every once in a while," he said. "We need to remember it so we don't get complacent. ... This memorial will serve as a constant reminder."
As part of Sunday morning's ceremonies, Marshall was officially declared a Yellow Ribbon Community. A Yellow Ribbon Community "unites all areas within a community to create a comprehensive network that connects and coordinates agencies, organizations, resources and employers for the purpose of proactively supporting servicemembers and military families."
Brigadier General Jeffrey Bertrang, Assistant Division Commander-Maneuver, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, Minnesota Army National Guard, has the honor of officially proclaiming Marshall's Yellow Ribbon status, which has now been bestowed on 71 cities, 15 companies and eight counties in Minnesota.
"You are modeling the behavior on how to support service members and families," he said.
Five members of the Worthington Fire Department, along with their family members and supporters -- many of them wearing special firefighter 9/11 T-shirts -- made the trip to Marshall, bringing the department's aerial truck to be part of the 9/11 Honor Parade that followed the ceremonies. Worthington Fire Chief Rick von Holdt noted that Worthington is also working to become a Yellow Ribbon Community, and that a similar ceremony will be in his community's future.
"Just being here with all the other departments is incredible," he reflected on the day's events. "And all the support, and the support the community has given to emergency personnel and the awareness is amazing. It's knowing that everybody's got your back."