Seven-thousand American flags blanketed Missoula's Memorial Rose Garden Wednesday as dozens gathered to solemnly remember the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Of those flags, 2,977 represented the people who died 18 years ago in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia, as well as those who thwarted the hijackers in a plane over Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and died as the aircraft crashed. Thousands more flags were there in honor of first responders who have since died from the exposure to toxic material as they rushed to the scene and pried through the rubble.
Jack Babon, a 67-year-old U.S. Navy and Army veteran whose daughter is currently serving a tour in the Middle East, showed up early to help plunge a few flags into the soft earth.
"The silliness of it," he said. "We didn't call for this fight."
As the ceremony got underway, for just a moment there were no iPhones in sight as retired Missoula Rural Firefighter Tom Zeigler read the names of his 26 firefighter friends who perished that day. He had missed that year's three-week training in New York, but flew to Ground Zero after the attack to help search through the wreckage for more than three weeks.
"People just don't understand really what we came across," Zeigler said. "The piles we were climbing on were as high as these trees."
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Susan Reneau, a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary and Daughters of the American Revolution, led the ceremony, introducing speaker after speaker. She secured the 7,000 flags from the Missoula Exchange Club.
Marcus Klemp, a member of the Missoula Civil Air Patrol's color guard, is only 13, born five years after the 9/11 attacks, but still recognized the weight of a ceremony like Wednesday's.
"A lot of people died, and it meant a lot to us," he said.
Klemp said his involvement in the Civil Air Patrol, a citizen auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, helped establish 9/11 in his mind. On Wednesday he held the Civil Air Patrol's flag while standing below the POW flag flying at half staff above of the ceremony.
"These (ceremonies) continue to be an educational piece to them, too," Babon, the Navy and Army vet whose daughter currently serves overseas, said of those engaged in the ceremony but weren't born yet on 9/11.
"It's important to them, too."