By The Associated Press
JACKSON – Vicki McGowan stood outside the War Memorial building in downtown Jackson and silently wiped away tears as a lone bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” during the state's official prayer service Thursday.
“We should never become complacent. We should never let that day become a faded memory,” said McGowan, who wore a shirt reading '09.11.01. Freedom Lives On.' “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Silent reflection, monument dedications, speeches and songs remembering the dead and honoring soldiers and emergency workers were among the ways Mississippians marked the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Firefighters and police officers were among the dozens who gathered for the prayer service in Jackson. Prayers were said by Muslim, Jewish and Baptist leaders.
“We lost two of our own, Lt. Jerry Don Dickerson Jr., and Joe Ferguson, both men who grew up in Durant, Miss.,” Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said. “The state of Mississippi will never forget the ultimate sacrifice they made for their country.”
Many in the crowd bowed their heads and closed their eyes as Rev. Jim Futral prayed and then later softly sang along while the National Guard band played “God Bless America.”
“As we look back on the events of two years ago, that as beautiful as this day is, it is overshadowed by the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001,” said Robert Latham, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the state's homeland security chief.
“It will be a day that we will always remember,” Latham said. “It will be a day that we can look back on and remember not only the thousands of innocent civilians who lost their lives just going to work that day to earn a living for their families, but also the emergency responders, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical technicians who paid the ultimate sacrifice…”
While Mississippi was far from the attacks in New York and Washington that claimed more than 3,000 victims, the days and weeks that followed were times of uncertainty and fear.
Anthrax-laced letters mailed later that year killed five people and sickened 17 in other states, including Florida, sparking anthrax scares across Mississippi.
At one point, law enforcement officers were rushing to investigate dozens of suspected anthrax sightings and health officials were busy in labs testing various powders. Anthrax was never found.
Thursday's memorial services were held in large and small towns alike.
At the meeting Thursday of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, state officials observed a moment of silence for the victims.
Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, also prayed for the families, the victims, President George W. Bush, and the nation.
“What was meant as evil by the enemy, has turned out to be a positive for this country, has made us even stronger,” Frazier said.
Earlier in the day Musgrove visited with National Guard soldiers and their families in Tupelo, Meridian and on the Gulf Coast. In Jackson, elementary students held a candlelight vigil, while a high school band and singers gathered in Yazoo City to remember the dead and honor the heroes of Sept. 11.
A patriotic parade was held in Wesson, while in McComb, the day was remembered in song by high school choral groups. An eternal flame was lit in Starkville, while bells rang out at 8:59 a.m. in Biloxi.
Latham said that Sept. 11 was not only a day to remember, but a day to look forward.
“We have to never forget that day,” he said. “We have a moral obligation not to forget the sacrifices that were made and to insure that their loss was not in vain. That working together, America can be secure and is a much safer place today. But the work is not finished.”
Latham said he had worked since 9-11 to make sure those who will be called should terrorism hit Mississippi have “the best equipment and training that money can buy.”