Lexington remembers 9/11 at downtown memorial service

Downtown service part of several events

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 12, 2011 

"Painful truths are hard to tell."

Those words were spoken by forensic anthropologist Emily Craig as she explained, to those gathered at Cheapside Park for a memorial service Sunday on the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks, her post-9/11 work in New York.

The words rang true for one couple in the crowd.

Sonya and Wayne Keith of Midway had come to the memorial service to help explain the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to their 7-year-old daughter Arissa and 5-year-old son Grason.

"To explain it to a 7- and a 5-year-old, the mentality that was behind the attacks is really challenging," said Sonya Keith. "We thought we would bring them ... and show them how people remember."

Lexington observed the anniversary with several events, including a downtown memorial service and concert, a run/walk and blood drive by city firefighters and an evening candlelight celebration of unity. Other communities throughout Kentucky also observed the anniversary with similar events.

Craig, now a consulting forensic anthropologist after her retirement from state government, said she was called to New York about 10 days following the attack and assigned to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. She recalled that firefighters, police and port authority officers and emergency medical technicians, many of whom had relatives who died in the attack, were given special latitude and were allowed to observe her work.

"As fathers brought in the bodies of their sons, and sons brought in the remains of their fathers, they could stand there with us as we searched for some form of identification," she said.

"I remember as they stood there looking over my shoulder ... so close ... I could feel their warm breath and sometimes their tears on the back of my neck as together we searched for something recognizable. More often than not," said Craig, "it was just a bone or some bone fragments. But still we hoped there might be evidence of something. Maybe a tattoo. Maybe a unique piece of jewelry still attached to a severed arm or a hand."

Sonya Keith said she and her husband had another reason for bringing her children to the memorial service. They wanted to show them how important police officers and firefighters are to their communities and how important they were on Sept. 11, 2001.

"We wanted them to understand ... how they responded on that day when their lives were in danger," she said.

Lt. Rich Berry was one of several Lexington firefighters at the service Sunday. He brought his sons — Josh, 10. Adam, 7, and Stephen, 11 months — to remember the firefighters who died.

"I think it's very important for them to remember why it happened and how it happened and the sacrifice that all of those firefighters made," Berry said.

Mayor Jim Gray remembered New York first responders in his remarks at the memorial service. "You are all here today as testimony to their courage and sacrifice," he said.

Also on Sunday, Lexington firefighters held a Run for Remembrance, a 4.03-mile run/walk at Coldstream Research Campus. The event honored New York City firefighters, police officers and officers from the Port Authority who died in the line of duty on 9/11.

Bill Reed, president and chief executive of the Kentucky Blood Center, one of the sponsors of the downtown memorial service, reminded the crowd of one of the ways people in Kentucky responded after the tragedy. In the days after 9/11, Kentucky Blood Center saw four times the number of blood donors it would normally see, Reed said.

"What that tells us is that in the face of this evil, this country decided to show the world the absolute best of who we are," Reed said. "What we did was create a blood supply after 9/11 that was unparalleled and unprecedented since."

Craig told the crowd that she recently passed on her experiences as a forensic anthropologist helping to identify the victims to a young Marine on his way to Afghanistan.

She said she felt like the Marine, who was only 11 when the attack occurred, "deserved to know exactly what he was fighting for ... and against."

"It's up to us to pass on to future generations everything we remember about that day," Craig said, "in hope that awareness and vigilance might somehow lessen the possibility that it might ever happen again."

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409.

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