VALDOSTA -- Moody Air Force Base planes roared overhead as about 75 people gathered Wednesday at Freedom Park to honor the fallen of 9-11 and praise the living who place themselves in harm's way every day.

Valdosta Junior Woman's Club planted a tree "to honor those courageous men and women who paid freedom's ultimate price" when terrorists hijacked four planes on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania.

"We honor and thank those police officers, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel and armed forces personnel who place themselves in harm's way every day," so reads the memorial dedicated by the VJWC.

"You will never look at a policeman, fireman or emergency medical personnel the same way you looked at them before 9-11," said Sen. Tim Golden.

A theme of strength, unity, pride and hope reverberated through the speeches of Lowndes County Commission Chairman Rod Casey, Valdosta Mayor Jimmy Rainwater, Col. Dom DeFrancis of Moody Air Force Base and Golden.

Casey said it's "surreal that we lost our innocence" in the worst attack ever on America which took the lives of almost 3,000 people.

"Terrorists wanted to change us, and they did -- America is stronger (with) more pride in our country than ever before."

Rainwater said the tragedy of 9-11 "could have happened to any of us."

"America's freedom doesn't come without a price," he said. "We are stronger; we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. We can't replace the lives lost, but we can plant something that says we're living."

As the sun blazed down unmercifully, DeFrancis told the audience that nearly 400 Moody troops are across Central Asia supporting Enduring Freedom, and reminded them that Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and 37 others gave the supreme sacrifice of their lives.

While DeFrancis said he approaches the 9-11 anniversary with determination, he encouraged the audience to be sensitive to those who are not coping as well.

The pediatrician cautioned parents to limit the amount of television their children are watching. He encouraged them to reassure their children rather than letting them watch hours of destruction.

As Golden concluded his speech, he reminded the audience of the words of President Bush which he paraphrased, "We shall prevail and prevail we will. God bless America."

To contact Lifestyles editor Elizabeth Butler, please call 244-3400, Ext. 256.

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