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Event remembers loved ones

Master Gunnery Sgt. Barry Bartasavich, of Blackstone, was at U.S. Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 when the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Somerset, Pennsylvania took place.

He, with other personnel at the base, watched as the United Airlines Flights 11 and 175 crashed into the North and South towers, and later, Flight 93 crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

“I can only describe the feeling of watching the news feed live as complete horror,” Bartasavich said, “screaming on the inside and rage burning, not knowing at the time what to do.”

Bartasavich, a teacher at Nottoway County High School and a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps with 29 years of service, addressed participants at a Saturday event held by Twin Lakes State Park remembering the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Members of the Nottoway County High School JROTC and Color Guard raised flags and played music during the event.

The base went into lockdown, Bartasavich said, as Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, near Washington, D.C.

Soon after, Bartasavich said, the South tower collapsed.

“In less than two hours, three buildings on U.S. soil, three structures that are symbols of our great country, had been reduced to nothing. Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven victims of a terrorist attack,” Bartasavich said.

“Our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America … We came together today to not only remember the attack on 9/11, the victims and first responders who lost their lives, but also to remember what it was like to love our neighbor, to comfort strangers and to stand together as one and say to evil that sought to destroy the freedoms that we stand for, ‘You will not defeat us.’”

Park Manager Phil Morgan said the event, in its fifth year, is meant to honor victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and honor fallen law enforcement members in the past year.

A poster board on display during the event also featured some of Virginia’s law enforcement officers who have passed away in the last year, including Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates, of Virginia State Police, who died following a helicopter crash en route to assisting those affected by the August white nationalist rally and demonstration in Charlottesville. 

Following the address by Bartasavich, participants brought their homemade paper lanterns to the edge of one of the lakes at the park. The lanterns sought to remember and honor loved ones, 9/11, offering prayers through art and words.

After twilight fell, a park ranger lit a tea candle inside each lantern and participants lowered the lanterns onto the lake’s surface.

Those in attendance took photos and watched the lanterns float across the lake — the candles brightening the messages and drawings on the lanterns. Some had the names of loved ones and prayers for those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, while others had drawings of the U.S. flag.

For those who’ve lost friends and family members not in law enforcement or in the line of duty, they too could create a lantern dedicated to them.

“It’s kind of somber, but it’s supposed to be,” Morgan said, thanking service members for their sacrifices. “We’re thankful for them and (to have a) night to just reflect on (their) service.”

The lanterns, Morgan said, were made with rice paper with a wax coating on the bottom to allow them to float.

Laura Flynn made lanterns with her three children. She said hers was in memory of her father, a Korean War veteran who died in the past year. She said her children had also lost friends from school.

She said the event allowed her family to remember those who passed away during the Sept. 11 attacks, family and friends.

“I thought we could come out and do it in memory of them,” Flynn said.