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HUNTINGTON — As 2,000 American flags in the Healing Field fluttered in the breeze, people gathered at Spring Hill Cemetery on Saturday to remember the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District hosted the Patriot Day Ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Several speakers recalled memories of that day, the loss of the day and the effects of the attacks on the United States.

Ken Ambrose addressed the crowd gathered. In his remarks, he spoke about his son, Dr. Paul Ambrose, a Huntington native who was aboard Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon after it was hijacked. Ambrose said that after the loss, Huntington and Marshall University continued upon the work his son did in his life, such as scholarships and the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health.

He said the last time he was with his son, they were on a trip fishing off the coast of North Carolina.

“Coming back in at the close of the day, he said, ‘Dad,’ he said, ‘it doesn’t get any better than this,’” Ambrose said.

He added that he hopes members of the community remember that spirit when remembering his son.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams spoke about where he was on 9/11, which was working in Chicago at the time. He recalled memories of speaking with workers who were worried about the future. The mayor noted that life did change for many after the attacks, but many continue to take care of their families and neighbors.

“Life did change, but we found that life also has to continue to carry on,” Williams said.

In her remarks, Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader discussed the loss faced by first responders and families on 9/11 and the support and volunteers who rallied around them in the months to come.

“Twenty years has given us time to grieve, heal and reflect, learn more about the magnitude of this unconscionable terrorist attack,” Rader said. “And let’s just be real — the statistics are staggering.”

Fred Buchanan, of the American Legion, addressed the crowd at the cemetery and spoke about the importance of remembering 9/11 in the future.

“Healing, reassurance, comfort — these qualities run counter to the inhumanity exhibited by a small group of terrorists that day,” Buchanan said. “Combine these traits with the steadfast commitment to prepare and prevent future attacks, and we will truly be honoring all those who were lost. We must never forget.”

Marshall University ROTC’s Major Danny Thornhill was also among Saturday’s speakers. He spoke about the creation of Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance to acknowledge 9/11.

“Patriot Day is a day of national awareness and solemn reverence, a day to honor and pay tribute to all who sacrificed their lives in defense of America and freedom,” Thornhill said.

Mike Browning, a representative of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., read a letter from the senator to the crowd. In the letter, Manchin gave thanks to first responders, members of the armed forces and hospital workers.

“Each of us grieved and felt the shock of our vulnerability during the days and weeks following the attacks. But we also experienced something else as a nation. Our country learned of the great strength, bravery and character of our heroes,” Browning said as he read from the letter.

Kim Miller, the park district board’s treasurer, was the emcee for the event. She said 9/11 served as a reminder that even the strongest of countries are not invincible.

“Those who are old enough to remember will know exactly where they were when the news hit,” Miller said. “The phrase ‘never forget’ will forever be tied to the catastrophe, and the names of the victims will be eternally engraved on the elegant memorials that are in place where the World Trade Center once stood.”

The Patriot Day Ceremony has been hosted by GHPRD for several years, Executive Director Kathy McKenna said. The event was not held last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, though the Healing Field was in place. She said the event is important “to keep the memory of all those that we lost alive.”

The American flags in the Healing Field are for sale and cost $35. The funds support the Memorial Bell Tower in the cemetery. Those who purchase a flag can pick it up from the cemetery by 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13.

McKenna Horsley is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering local government in Huntington and Cabell County. Follow her on Twitter @Mckennahorsley.

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