The date of Sept. 11 is etched in the collective memory of a generation.
Every year, the 21st Ward Veterans Association holds a candlelight prayer vigil at the War Memorial in Roxborough’s Gorgas Park. The first vigil brought out a few hundred. Each successive year, the crowd dwindled a little.
But this year, a milestone of that tragedy brought out much of the community.
“It hardly feels like 10 years,” said Bruce Hoffman, who served as master of ceremonies. “After 9/11, I saw the United States truly united. A lot has changed since then but we need to get back to that. We need to get back to family values.”
Prayer was certainly the flavor of this community vigil. Pastors from every faith and almost every parish in Roxborough and Manayunk attended and offered prayers of hope and unity.
Guests spoke about where they were 10 years ago. Maj. Glenn Snyder of the The Salvation Army spoke about his time serving the disaster relief efforts in New York City, where he was stationed. Snyder spoke about filling requests for items that were not normally stocked by the Salvation Army, such as flags and pickaxes.
“It was a time of uncertainty,” said Snyder. “But it is amazing what we can accomplish when we pull together.”
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the community of Roxborough and Manayunk in ways small but noticeable.
New flag poles commemorating each branch of the Armed Services surround the Gorgas Park War Memorial. The community also gathers for flag retirement ceremonies. Currently, the community has retired hundreds of flags. These were projects of local Troop 334 Eagle Scouts John Wynne and Fury Colubriale.
Both were unable to attend this year because they were away attending college but wrote letters that were read at the vigil. Fury’s letter was read by his father. Volunteer Karen Sears read Wynne’s letter.
“I have always been patriotic and because of 9/11, I wanted to add something to the park,” said Wynne’s letter.
Plaques at the war memorial commend the efforts of these Eagle Scouts.
Hoffman noted that many young people signed up to the military because of Sept. 11.. The community lost loved ones but out of one loss came a positive achievement, Operation Bedding.
Out of grief, service
Operation Bedding came to be after a Sunday morning phone call in 2006 to Mary Conboy from her son Lance Cpl. Adam Conboy, who at the time was serving in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He requested some basic supplies which included pillows. He said to her “whatever you send make sure it is in the amount of 40.”
He wanted to ensure that his comrades have the same comforts that he did. He told his mother, “Get Operation Bedding going, Mom.” That Friday, Adam was killed. Without realizing it, Adam had inspired his own memorial.
Mary Conboy continues sending supplies to troops under Operation Bedding today.
Alex Archawski, founder and director of the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network, reminded attendees of the importance of welcoming back soldiers after their service, helping to reintroduce them to civilian life and be part of the community.
“It is not up to the government to help out our veterans; it is our job,” said Archawski.
Ground Zero heroes
Other speakers noted the sacrifices of police and firefighters during the terrorist attacks 10 years ago. Approximately 400 police and firemen died at the World Trade Center in New York. Members of the Philadelphia Police and Fire Departments lay wreaths to commemorate the dead.
“First responders are our first line of defense,” said Hoffman.
As the sunlight waned over the park, candles flickered as participants sang along with the Roxborough Male Quartet. Members of the American Legion Henry Houston Post 3 Honor Guard fired a salute over the memorial.
“America has changed. It went from divided to united to divided again. Let’s stay united,” said Hoffman. “These lighted candles show our unity. Let’s make Roxborough-Manayunk, the best community.”