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Citrus recalls 9/11 with its heart

Whether it's through somber remembrance of the losses, or proud proclamations of patriotism, residents mark the day of tragedy with feeling.

By CARRIE JOHNSON, ALEX LEARY and JORGE SANCHEZ
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2002


Citrus County is far removed from the sites where terrorist-controlled jets claimed the lives of thousands. But the first anniversary of those attacks still triggered plenty of raw emotion among residents Wednesday.

In Inverness, state Rep. Nancy Argenziano's voice trembled as she recalled hearing the horrifying news last Sept. 11 while at a committee meeting in Tallahassee.

"Why do people want to hurt us?" she wondered. "Why do people want to do this to our country? I think it's simply because we're free."

In gatherings throughout Citrus, both secular and religious, Citrus residents wept, prayed and paid silent tribute to the men and women killed a year ago when hijacked planes slammed into the Pentagon, World Trade Center and a Pennsylvania field.

Argenziano spoke at one of the largest county events Wednesday, a gathering outside the Historic Courthouse organized by local activists Mary-Ann and Arnold Virgilio.

The tone of the hourlong event wavered between sadness for the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, and intense, flag-waving patriotism.

Sheriff Jeff Dawsy was cheered heartily by the crowd when he praised the renewed sense of pride expressed by U.S. residents during the days following the assaults.

"Thank you, Osama bin Laden. Thank you, Taliban," Dawsy said. "You've awakened a sleeping giant."

The Citrus High School band played The Star Spangled Banner as members of the audience saluted or put hands over hearts. The Virgilios were presented with an award for patriotism by the Fleet Reserve Association, a reward for their monthslong battle to hang American flags along Main Street in Inverness.

The event closed on a somber note, with the haunting echo of taps reverberating through Courthouse Square.

"It was the perfect culmination to having the flags hung on Main Street," Mary-Ann Virgilio said after the ceremony.

In Crystal River, city employees took part in a memorial service outside City Hall that began at 8:46 a.m., the time American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center north tower last year.

Standing under a gazebo as a light rain fell, City Manager Phil Lilly said a prayer for "those brave people who gave their lives and the heroes and heroines who responded to the emergency.

"We also come to pray for those left behind, those who lost friends, co-workers, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives," he said.

Members of the American Legion Post. No. 155 sounded a 21-gun salute and folded a ceremonial flag. The Crystal River High School Band performed a variety of songs, closing the 15-minute memorial with God Bless America.

Afterward, police Lt. Mike Klyap focused on the positive effects of Sept. 11. "It brought the country together," he said. "Hopefully, it will keep everyone together."

About 60 people gathered at the Harry F. Nesbitt VFW Post 10087 in Beverly Hills for a wreath-laying ceremony to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Post commander Edward Wiltsie and ladies auxiliary commander Velma Bayerle held hands as they placed a wreath at the base of a trio of flags, each lowered to half-staff.

A bugler softly played taps from the trees a short distance away and a color guard fired a 21-gun salute during the ceremony.

Wiltsie, a veteran of World War II who served as a seaman aboard landing craft during the island-hopping assaults in the Pacific, said the terror attacks evoked feelings similar to Pearl Harbor.

"It brought about a resurgence of patriotism, but at a dear cost," Wiltsie said.

Said Bayerle: "I've been to ground zero twice and pictures can't begin to describe it. Plus I know three people who were lost there that day."

Tears welling up in her eyes, she was forced to conclude.

"That's about all I can say."

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