Thursday morning, thousands of people lined the street at Baylor University in Waco, TX. They were waiting to gain entrance to a memorial service for the 12 firefighters who lost their lives in the West, TX explosion at a fertilizer plant on April 17, 2013. The memorial was hosted by the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Though the memorial service did not begin until 2:00pm, the line stretched down University Parks Road as early as 9:30am.
Upon entering the Ferrell Center, also the basketball stadium for Baylor’s sports teams, attendees were greeted with a solemn atmosphere of respect and honor. Twelve guarded flag-draped caskets were present just in front of the stage.
Said Steve Jensen, a sophomore at Baylor University,
“I got here about 9:00 this morning. It took almost an hour and a half to get in, but seeing the flag-draped caskets was overwhelming and very powerful. It’s then when you truly realize the meaning of this memorial and its importance for West and the first responders.”
As over 4,000 uniformed firefighters processed into the building, the crowd of thousands of West residents, Waco community members, and Baylor students stood to show their appreciation.
Governor Rick Perry expressed his admiration,
“First responders know better than anyone that there’s no such thing as a routine emergency. … But it didn’t slow them down.”
“Their spirit lives on,” he said. As videos telling the courageous stories of the men were shown, Perry’s statement rang true.
President and Mrs. Obama were also in attendance to offer their support to the community, flying down immediately after the dedication of the George W. Bush Library in Dallas. Said President Obama,
“Even amidst such sorrow, so much pain, we recognize God’s abundance. … We may not all live in Texas, but we’re neighbors too.”
The President also acknowledged the city’s strong community. “What makes West special, what puts it on the map, is what makes it familiar – the people who live there.”
The entire service reminds us that we live in a beautiful country: a country that honors our fallen heroes, respects our leaders, and offers unending support in times of unimaginable sorrow.