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Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell

TWELVE AND A half-year-old Mackenze Austin of White Sulphur Springs holds a candle and manages a reassuring smile during a Liberty vigil held for victims of the recent terrorist attacks.

'This Little Light of Mine'

By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY — September 21, 2001 – American flags sprang forth like wildflowers Sunday, greeting the dawn of a new season in a little village called Liberty.
Candles lit those flags and the many somber faces as people reflected upon the recent tragic events that at best could serve as a wakeup call to Americans that all was not right in the world, or at worst could propel the nation into war against unseen enemies.
On Sunday night, an estimated 500 people congregated at LaPolt Park. At first, folks arrived singly or in small groups, but as the scheduled starting time for the community candlelighting ceremony approached, the crowd rapidly overflowed the small park to the newly erected gazebo and a stone wall on the other side of Main Street.
As dusk descended, a color guard marched down the sidewalk and came to rest in front of the crowd. American flags ruled the night and were beautifully illuminated as first one, then hundreds, of candles lit throughout the large crowd.
Scores of uniformed local firefighters and police officers holding fluttering candles accompanied the color guard.
The ceremony of candles, songs of patriotism and praise to a higher power, flags and prayer were organized by Sullivan County District 6 Legislator Jodi Goodman and community activist Maurice Gerry, who served as master of ceremonies.
“It was so wonderful,” said Goodman the following morning. “When I saw the honor guard marching down the lawn with our flag – oh my, what a sight that was – it was overwhelming. The strength, the power and the respect took my breath away.”
The village mayor and town supervisor had their say at the podium, and the local clergy turned out in force to offer words of comfort and the Bible’s promises of dual-edged swords.
Members of the clergy included Rev. David McCarthy of Liberty Free Methodist Church, Rev. Fran Waite of Liberty United Methodist Church, Rev. Gary Wilcox of the Liberty Assembly of God, Rabbi Marvin Goldman from Congregation Ahavath Israel, Deacon Douglas Bowman of Friendship Baptist Church and Deacon John Riley from St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
The Daytop Choir sang “Amazing Grace” in the background, while choir member Gwendolyn Caines performed “Precious Lord.” Soloist Adam Weith movingly sang “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Denetha Armstrong of Monticello arrived early to ensure she had a front row bench seat in front of the flag and bunting-draped stage.
While waiting for the ceremony to begin, Armstrong reflected on the tragedy and what it means to the nation.
“This takes us to a whole new place and gives us a different kind of consciousness,” she said. “As a country, this brings us more together.”
Allan and Molly Matros of Loch Sheldrake stood somberly next to Armstrong by a green painted bench, while on the other side of the park, 11- and 12 1/2-year-old sisters Brittany and Mackense Austin of White Sulphur Springs held candles aloft and innocently giggled a bit while their elders thought about what would unfold in the future of the international community.
Brian Scott of Jeffersonville came to the candlelighting ceremony with his wife Nancy and their sons Christopher, 5 and 8-year-old Nicholas.
As Scott provided a sheltering presence for his family, he held a large American flag over one shoulder, and with the other hand, a grass-enclosed candle.
In the closing moments, as the crowd joined in unison to sing “God Bless America,” hundreds of lighted candles were held aloft in salute to the spirit of freedom and the sacrifices men and women are called upon to keep the flame burning brightly. Tears flowed freely in remembrance of the tragedy.
Joe Maxwell, chief of the Liberty Fire Department, rang a brass bell five times to observe a “Signal Five,” the firefighters’ traditional rite of passage signifying the exit of service in this world to the entrance of serving their creator.
“We honored not only the firefighters who died, but all the people who were killed in the attacks on the United States,” he said. “Everyone in the U.S. is affected by what happened, and people are dealing with it differently.”
According to Maxwell, he saw some firefighters show up for the ceremony wearing dress uniforms they hadn’t worn for years out of respect for those who were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, America’s second encounter with a “Day of Infamy.”
As the firemens’ final call faded into the night, the haunting sound of “Taps” visibly moved the crowd. The memorial bugle calls were performed by Liberty Central School band directors Gary Siegel and Mike Williams.
Afterwards, people gathered in small clusters: some talked of peace, others wanted swift retribution.
As Nancy Scott rested on her husband’s comforting shoulder, she cried softly, and tears welled in his eyes.
Asked why he brought his family to the emotion-filled candlelighting ceremony, Scott replied, “We love America, and we’ve got to show it.
“In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a unity stronger than it is right now,” said the 39-year-old father of two. “The Lord’s coming back into it, and that’s what the country needs.”
According to Nancy Scott, several members of their congregation, the Liberty Free Methodist Church, planned on leaving the following morning to take cards and small stuffed animals into the city in order to offer aid to the distraught families of the victims.
“This was where the Lord wanted me to be,” she said. “It was a great ceremony. They took care of a lot of faiths and brought unity to the town.”

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