Last Thursday evening, Reynolds Memorial Baptist Church hosted its “In September We Remember, Patriot Day, and Those Who Serve Us Here” 13th anniversary commemoration. Several hundred families, neighbors, friends and first responders gathered for the memorial dove release service, a fellowship dinner and prayer service. Rev. Jon Heddleston, orchestrator of the annual event, officiated the ceremonies.
The night was all about honoring our heroes — not only those who sacrificed their lives saving others on that fateful day, but also those here in our own community who give of themselves to protect and keep us out of harm’s way. They are Rappahannock’s Top Guns.
Many county volunteer fire and rescue companies were present, along with local law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Connie Smith.
“Every year for the past 13 years volunteer fire and rescue companies from every sector of the county are represented at this event: Castleton, Sperryville (both the fire department and the rescue squad), Amissville, Chester Gap, Flint Hill and Washington, and it is always very special,” said Sperryville fire chief Richie Burke.
While people gathered around the church steps, Rev. Jennings Hobson III escorted to the front Gertrude Poling, whose husband Paul, a lifelong firefighter and fire and rescue advocate who was instrumental in the founding of the Amissville Volunteer Fire and Rescue, passed away in 2010.
Folks were then asked to join Mrs. Poling on the steps and were handed white doves provided by Mark Rhein of Cornucopia Farm in Washington and his lovely daughter, Ashley, who donated their time to the event. Excited children as well as adults clasped the beautiful birds in their hands.
Also present among the crowd were several first responders’ daughters and sons. Now first responders themselves, they were standing in uniform, proudly following a family tradition. “They are all folks who live personal heroism; it is their calling,” Rev. Heddleston said.
The signal to release was given and the soft white doves burst into the pastel blue sky, poised to fly back home — a symbolic journey.
A potluck dinner followed, with country-style homemade succulent meat and potato dishes, all manner of casseroles, salads and desserts, from recipes handed down over generations. The German rouladen, close to my heart, was as good or better than my mom used to make.
Amid the din of animated conversation was also introspection. Folks were overheard recalling, in hushed tones, where they were on that fateful day in 2001. Some in the room experienced the carnage first hand, having been tasked as first responders to lead the clean up at the Pentagon.
The years following 9/11 brought an infusion of newly minted Rappahannock residents from the city and suburbs. Many, I’ve been told, sought the solace rural Rappahannock had to offer. Seated at tables in the church dining hall were some with expressive eyes seared with the brand of sad remembrances. It was shared with me that some folks had probably moved here to mute vivid memories, to embrace the simplicity of fishing in clear mountain streams, and savor the sounds of the rushing Hazel and Thornton rivers.
A spiritual and uplifting prayer service followed the dinner. Rev. Heddleston officiated; Rev. Hobson and Rev. Bill Welch took to the pulpit as well. Music by David’s Heart filled the sanctuary with the sounds of angelic voices. Representatives of each fire and rescue company were asked to stand and all received heartfelt acknowledgment.
Rappahannock is one of a handful of counties in Virginia that maintain all-volunteer emergency fire and rescue squads. Thank you, all of you, for your commitment, and for your selflessness.