Southeast Arkansas College partnered with Pine Bluff city leaders Wednesday afternoon to remember the fallen and to honor the community’s first responders in a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The opening act of the ceremony was marked by the arrival of the Honor Guard of the Arkansas Department of Correction, whose four members made their way to the front of the gathering before two of the four moved to place the flags of the United States of America and the Great State of Arkansas on either side of the speaker’s lectern.
“We are here to honor the legacy and memory of those who died or were injured,” SEARK Director of Retention Deborah Pyland said at the start of the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. “We also want to recognize the everyday contributions of first responders in Pine Bluff and surrounding areas. We want to show you that we appreciate all of your hard work and the sacrifices you make to keep us all safe in our communities.”
SEARK nursing student Antoinette Davis stepped forward to offer a passionate rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth spoke of the resilience of the nation in the aftermath of the attacks.
“We are here today to remember an event of national tragedy,” Hollingsworth said. “We came back and showed that we would not be kept down by the terrorists. We relied heavily on the first responders in that time of crisis. We remember the fallen and we also honor the current first responders.”
SEARK President Steve Hilterbran expressed his appreciation for all first responders.
“I wish there was more we could do to remember those first responders who lost their lives on September 11, 2001,” Hilterbran said. “We appreciate what first responders do for us every day.”
Rev. Michael Williams sang a gospel-infused rendition of “America the Beautiful” that earned him an enthusiastic standing ovation.
“It means everything to me to be a part of this today,” Williams said after the program. “There are so many people in my life who are first responders. There are a lot of heroes right here in Pine Bluff. It’s also important to have these events to teach kids about what happened that day.”
Hilterbran said the SEARK 9/11 observance is an important event on the school calendar.
“I was out of town last year so this is the first one I’ve been able to attend,” Hilterbran said. “We have more students who are military veterans coming back from the wars overseas. What happened on 9/11 is the reason that these servicemen and servicewomen are coming back now.”
In addition to Hollingsworth, other attendees included Jefferson County Judge Dutch King and Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell.
The event began with something not normally associated with 9/11 ceremonies; a parade.
Pyland said the parade is a way to celebrate the service of first responders in the community and to thank them publicly for what they do.
The first indication of the parade’s approach was the sight of two flag masts bobbing up and down in a military cadence moving east on 18th Avenue toward the southeast campus entrance. Soon the flags of the United States of America and the state of Arkansas came into view, carried by the Honor Guard of the Arkansas Department of Correction.
Next up came the Dollarway High School Marching Band followed by the Watson Chapel Junior High School JROTC cadets.
The first responders were represented by cruisers with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, the Pine Bluff Police Department and the Arkansas State Police as well as several engines with the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department.