By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–
Two remembrances, which embrace the patriotism of this community, have become a tradition in Ridgecrest: The Parade of 1,000 Flags and the Candlelight Vigil. This year the parade marches through town on Saturday, September 10 and the Candlelight Vigil solemnly inspires on Sunday, September 11.
The Candlelight Vigil begins Sunday evening at dusk, around 7:00 pm, with the Bell Ceremony and the Fireman’s Prayer, led by Kern County Firefighter, Captain Harry Kelmanson. Following the ceremonial traditions, the firefighters exit the dais while the bagpipes play Amazing Grace. Then all attendees light their candles. This is an emotional tribute that many say is their favorite part of the Ridgecrest 9-11 remembrances.
The Parade of 1,000 flags begins at 9am, Saturday morning, starting at the parking lot in front of the old bowling alley on China Lake Boulevard, continuing to California Boulevard, and then on to Freedom Park at City Hall. Sierra Sands School District Supervisor, Dr. Dave Ostash is Parade Commander. Leading off the parade is the Travis Combs Bagpipe Band, followed by VIPS and first responders. Participating VIPs include Congressman Kevin McCarthy,
Senator Shannon Grove, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, Assemblyman Vince Fong, Sheriff Donny Youngblood, Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) Captain Jeremy Vaughan, Commander Ben Wainwright, Officer in Charge of Construction, and Harlan Kooima, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Director, Research and Development Group.
Up next is the Burroughs Marching Band and then 1,000 flag bearers who are from community service organizations, veterans organizations, scouts, schools, and churches. There are folks in wheelchairs and people pushing baby strollers.
The parade ends at Freedom Park by City Hall where the flags are planted and will stay in the park until Friday, September 16. The morning concludes with a short program. Following the benediction by NAWS Base Chaplain, Lieutenant David Brainard, brief greetings will be presented by Senator Shannon Grove, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, and Assemblyman Vince Fong. Keynote Speakers include Captain Jeremy Vaughan and Congressman Kevin McCarthy who has been a longtime supporter of Ridgecrest and the Parade of 1,000 flags, having previously served as Grand Marshall.
After the program, the park becomes a choir of 1,000 voices singing God Bless America.
“As we stand here, together as a community bearing the red, white and blue, we experience what America is all about,” says Pat Farris, Chair of the parade committee. “This gives our children participating in this event a sense of community and patriotism that will last them a lifetime. We are honored to have our VIPs participate. No doubt they are inspired as well. There is no other community in this country that commemorates 9-11 in such a spectacular display.”
Preparing for an event such as this is a huge task. None of the committee members volunteer for personal gain or recognition, Farris says, “They do it because of their sense of patriotism and their love for this community. They wanted this to continue in this community, so they came on board to make it happen.” Pat Farris from The News Review is the Chairperson. She organizes the parade and recruits flag bearers. Scott O’Neil from the Indian Well Valley Economic Development Corporation (IWVEDC) and Rebecca McCord from the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce prepare the field for flags and prepare the flags for distribution. Also on the committee are Mike Cash of Operation Family Fund, Diane Wonnacott, and NAWS Public Affairs Officers Hannah Moore and Deidre Patin.
Before it became a parade the remembrance featured a Field of 1,000 Flags started by the Exchange Club in 2005. Farris recalls, “They posted the flags but people didn’t realize they were there and it wasn’t getting the community participation that was anticipated. I thought, ‘If we can get 1,000 people to carry flags, there would be 1,000 people who knew about the remembrance field.’ That seemed like a sizeable task, but I thought if we could get 100 people to sponsor rows of ten, that would be 1,000.” Putting her organizational skills to work Farris was able to obtain the volunteers needed to make this vision a reality.
Last year, when the Exchange Club was unable to handle the event anymore, Scott O’Neil and the IWVEDC stepped up. ”One of the reasons that EDC got involved is that we didn’t want this to just die,” says O’Neil. “It’s really become a defining element of our community. We wanted to continue this as a statement for our community; it is really the statement about who we are and about the patriotic nature of our community. And, of course, we are a defense community that is for national security from a whole community perspective. It not only represents that but it represents our commitment to our first responders and to our military that provides us the protection that we enjoy in our daily lives. By continuing this for our community, it really becomes a defining element of what our community is about, who our people are, and what we stand for.”
“Never Forget” is a call to honor the most enduring message left for us from those who perished in the attacks. When faced with certain death, again and again the innocent victims of 9-11 used whatever means they could to send a message to their loved ones. Those who were of an age can remember where they were on 9/11. For the younger ones, a recap: On the morning of September 11, 2001 the world watched in horror as a series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks claimed almost 3,000 lives on American soil. Nineteen al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes and flew two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers and crew attempted to regain control of the plane from the hijackers but managed to divert the plane from the intended target, the U.S. Capitol.
“Because the world watched in horror we will never forget 9-11 and will continue to commemorate this,” says Farris.
Remembering Our Fallen from California, will be displayed at the Kerr McGee Center Sept. 5 – 17 from 10am – 9pm weekdays and 8 am – 6pm on Saturdays, closed Sundays. The exhibit honors California Troops from all branches of the military who have died since Sept. 11, 2001 while serving this great nation.
Everyone is encouraged to join in the Parade of 1,000 Flags and the Candlelight Vigil. This is an opportunity to say thank you to first responders and come together as a community to honor those who passed. Farris says, “If anyone wants to be a flag bearer and they are not called with another group, please contact The News Review at 760-371-3740 and we will make sure you get lined up.” O’Neil says that those who want to volunteer can go to Justserve.org, enter 93555 in the zip code field, click on Parade of 1000 Flags, and there are several volunteer opportunities outlined