Hundreds March in Downtown Winter Haven for 9/11 20th Anniversary
by James Coulter
Hundreds of residents marched in solidarity through Downtown Winter Haven to commemorate the memory of the Americans who passed away during the September 11 terrorist attacks 20 years ago.
The City of Winter Haven hosted the Honoring Our Heroes memorial event on Saturday afternoon. The event started with Freedom Walk, with hundreds of residents marching through the streets in memory of the many lives that were lost that fateful day.
The remainder of the event was hosted at South Central Park, where several dozen crosses were set to honor the first responders who perished during the attack. From a fire truck proudly hung a large American flag that served as the backdrop for the speakers that afternoon. The event concluded with a moment of silence, a candlelight vigil, and a gun salute.
Sheriff Grady Judd highlighted the event with a rousing speech praising the overall sense of unity in the community, even during these uncertain times. Even when social and mainstream media aver that America is more divided than ever before, Polk County remains united through their love of country and each other.
Sheriff Judd attested to that fact by mentioning how he and his officers are well received by the community, even in spite of law enforcement facing overwhelming public scrutiny and politicization. When most other cities are demanding to defund the police, Sheriff Judd and his officers cannot have lunch without someone else paying their bill, he said. One woman in the audience even exclaimed that she would be willing to pay for his lunch anytime.
“So the division this media wanted to portray, this division that a few uglies on social media wanted to portray, does not exist in this city, or this county, or this state, or overwhelmingly it doesn’t exist across this nation…and we don’t think like that,” he said. “We recognize this as the greatest country in the world. You are the greatest people in the world, and we are blessed to be here with you, regardless of what some think.”
While political partisanship and divisions have intensified since September 11, Sheriff Judd firmly believes that more unites Americans than divides them. Only by focusing on what is right with America can the citizens of Polk County and the rest of the county make America right, he asserted.
“I believe that we can get back to a place of unity,” he said. “I believe that we can by ignoring the few, the ugly few, who want to say things to disrupt us. That is not who we are. Ladies and gentleman, I want to encourage you to remember, this is the greatest country in the world. You are the greatest people in the world. When we come together, when we work together, when we celebrate together, when we pray together, when we stay united, not one can beat us ever.”
Gary Clark of the Polk County Veterans Council spoke about the sacrifices made by the first responders that fateful day. During a time when law enforcement faces political backlash, now more than ever, we must remember the hard work police officers and other public servants endure to keep their local communities safe, Clark said.
“Without them, we are not a safe community,” he said. “We are blessed to have exceptional law enforcement professionals in this county. And we are extremely blessed. We are blessed with political leaders who show their support, with citizenry who, day in and day out, show their support….on behalf of the veterans who are assembled here, we want to thank all the law enforcement personnel and fire fighter/ems personnel who work to preserve and protect us in this community.”
Chief Charlie Byrd, Public Safety Officer with the Winter Haven Police Department, reminded everyone of the sacrifices made by the brave men and women in law enforcement, fire, and rescue who responded to the tragedy and boldly fled into danger and near death to save people. Without the willingness of people to make such sacrifices, society at large would not survive ensuing chaos and lawlessness, he said.
“If we didn’t have that, if we didn’t have people willing to step in and do that, chaos would reign, chaos would flourish,” he said. It is a calling. “Because they know they have to step in and they are the line that separates the crazies. They fill the gap to protect society. These extraordinary men and women report for duty knowing that today could be their last. They confront evil with professionalism and bravery…They face great peril with knowledge and a will to win. They will deal with tragedy and injury with compassion and empathy, and they will do all of this knowing they must be the rock upon which the citizens will cling, will look to for stability, and help calm the order during a time of chaos and confusion.”