More than a week after the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas that left 12 firefighters dead, family, friends and fellow Texans gathered to attend a memorial service in their honor. The event, held at Baylor University’s Ferrell Center, featured video eulogies, prayers and speeches given by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and President Barack Obama, who was joined by the first lady.
Former president George W. Bush regretted not being attendance due to the opening of his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but sent his condolences, which were read by Baylor’s President Ken Starr.
Outside the arena, the color guard led a long procession of fire engines trailed by mourning loved ones. Motorcycliists lined the street holding large American flags. In front of them, hundreds of others gathered to respectfully watch the parade of sorrow.
Once inside the center, thousands of people stood in silence as the families filed in and sat on the ground level in front of the line of caskets that separated them from the stage.
Perry acknowledged the courage of the firefighters by saying, “Our first responders know they’re placing themselves in danger, whether they’re braving the flames of a fire … or racing to the scene of an accident.”
He further described the noble men as “ordinary individuals blessed with extraordinary courage and determination to do what they could–to save lives.
He offered hopeful and comforting words to the families present and to the community where their loved ones died.
“Know that the spirit that drove those men that we loved … that spirit lives on…. Let their deeds serve as an inspiration for all of us to live lives of meaning, and to commit serving our neighbors and communities.”
“I cannot match the power of the voices yuo just heard on that video,” Obama said as he opened. “No words adequately describe the courage that was displayed on that deadly night. What I can do is offer the love, support and prayers of the nation.”
He reminded those present that, “we might not all live in Texas, but we’re neighbors too.”
And with that, the crowd applauded loudly.
Obama recounted the stories of friends and neighbors helping each other in the days following the explosion.
“What makes West special is not the attention from far-flung places,” he said.
What makes West special, what puts it on the map is what makes it familiar … things that are solid, and true and lasting.”
Referring to the selflessness the town exhibited, Obama said, “Today, the thing I see in the people of West, in your eyes, that’s what makes West special isn’t going to go away … America needs towns like West.”
At the end of the service, a fire bell ceremoniously rang as each fallen hero’s name was read one last time.