9/11 Activities in Florida

When I came to Florida this weekend I honestly had no idea what remembrance events would be taking place in the Florida panhandle. But as I was reading the local paper this morning over a cup of coffee, I saw where a local elementary school was meeting at their flagpole to have a short remembrance and patriotic service. I checked my watch. 30 mins to make the 10 minute drive! Checked my GPS. Realized I now had a duty to go be with the other uniformed service personnel and first responders. I arrived just in time. Turns out all branches were represented except for the Marines. I was the only Army rep. We all stood at the flagpole and said the pledge, had a moment of silence, and sang with the students “God Bless America.” Afterwards the students and teachers shook our hands and said “thank you.” I thanked the teachers for THEIR service. I knelt and talked to the younger students. Took off my hat and asked if I could borrow their hair. I could tell many of these kids came from working poor families. It brought back memories I have of attending elementary schools in Florida. That’s been a long time ago. But we had little back then. I could look into some of these little faces this morning and see myself. One little girl gave me a folded piece of paper. On the way home I opened it. She had drawn an American flag in crayon. Several students had their notebooks out asking us for our autographs. So I signed and added “Acts 1:8.”. The students were so sweet. The school was Cedar Grove Elementary. Colors? Purple and Gold. Tigers. The teachers were so kind. One teacher was wearing a Native American medicine wheel. I immediately recognized it and we chatted a bit about it.

Once I got back to my cousin’s home, and had a chance to finish the paper, I checked to see what other events were hsppening. I saw one I could make it to on Saturday morning, called “Panama City Remembers.” One of the panhandle’s largest scheduled events, it will last from 8:45am to 10:07am. That is the period of the four plane crashes. The big event will honor the fallen, as well as active duty and retired service men and women, and first responders. There’s to be a Navy flyover and more than 300 volunteers will plant red, white, and blue perennials in planters. Speakers will include Commissioner, the Mayor, the Cmdr. of the VFW, American Legion speakers, the US Representative from this area, and now, invocation by CH (Capt) Wm. Beaver. Yes, I’m stunned by it. I called the number to get directions, identified who I was, and then was invited by the event planner to arrive early to sit on the podium and to give the opening prayer. I told her, honestly, I was just happy to attend but would be honored to pray. So, on my way to the beach today, I will locate tomorrows site so I can be there on time. And begin thinking about what words will be appropriate for such an event. I will pray for exactly what to say. I’m glad I have my uniform, even if it is my ACU at this point. It will work fine. I’ve prayed at county commissioner meetings before, but this will be a very special opportunity. I remember vividly, working in Rome at the Christian bookstore on 9/11. I had just helped place Michael W. Smith’s “Worship” CD out. And that’s when customers came in to tell us what was happening. I raced to lunch at Shorter College student lobby to see the TV coverage. Came back to the nearly empty store. Then excused myself to the mens room where I honestly sat on the closed toilet seat and cried like a baby. I was overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. Crying into my hands that covered my face, and praying for answers. And now….ten years later, and several years after my colleague Emerson Byrd entered the Army Chaplaincy, I have a chance to really do something to make a difference. I wasn’t ready back then. I needed more seasoning. But the time is now. I am grateful for so many who paid the ultimate price since that fateful day. I am glad to have an opportunity now to minister to these men and women.

On Sunday, I will worship with my mom and stepdad at their church in Marianna, FL, where their pastor is a Reserve Chaplain. This trip has already been something to remember! (Glad I got my haircut yesterday!!)

God blesses when we least expect it. And gives people who are willing opportunities to serve. I’m still learning that lesson. I think I may always keep a complete ACU and an extra set of boots in the trunk of my car to grab and wear anytime duty calls. Even on vacation, duty can call. Be prepared!


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Linda Pennington on 9 September 11 at 15:51

    How wonderfully God is blessing your life and putting you in situations that complement your new calling by Him and give you the chance to serve. You are God’s servant, William, and we love you and pray His many blessings on your life. Linda and Marion


  2. Posted by Jodie Rhymer on 11 September 11 at 13:06

    As I read this, the tears fell from my face. You are such an inspiration and I love you very much! So proud to be able to call you my brother!


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