Remembering the Candlelight Walk: Why the Good Must Fight Against The Worst of Human Nature

WPCNR MILESTONES. By John F. Bailey .Reprinted from WPCNR of September 16, 2001:

As I write this introduction, it is almost 14 years when unbelievably, a lone plane struck the first World Trade Center Tower on a morning of bright clear sunny sky.

Every year we remember the day the Towers Fell and today we remember our war dead on Memorial Day. But, if anything, the Fall of the Towers and the regret and melancholy of Memorial Day say a lot of why there will always have to be those willing to fight against wrong.

My wife watched the towers fall from her office in midtown, a sight she will never forget.

On the Sunday night of September 16, 2001, White Plains held an impromptu memorial Candlelight Walk that attracted thousands. I covered that event and this reminiscence written that night tells just a little of how The Day the Towers Fell affected all of America that black day when oily smoke filled the Manhattan sky and thousands perished before our eyes, helpless to do anything to stop it.

Here is the reprint of The Candlelight Walk report 

They carried flags, “thank you signs,” and lit candles. They came from all races, ranks and religions to walk, remember and celebrate what it means to be an American and prayed for America’s future on the White Plains Candlelight Walk Sunday night Police estimated a crowd approaching 8,000 persons gathered at the White Plains Railroad Station and marched shoulder to shoulder, Black to White, Hispanic to Hassidim, Italian to Jew, Arab-to-Asian, Old-and-Young, American-to-American in a solemn, uplifting remembrance and rededication to America’s future.

The White Plains Candlelight Walk staggered city officials with the streaming turnout filling the broad Main Street boulevard with ranks of 30 to 40 persons shoulder-to-shoulder all the way from the City Hall steps to Bank Street.
By 7:15 PM the parking lot below the clock tower at the railroad station was filled, and still they came. Every race, every creed. Neighbors greeting each other. Shaking hands. Some carried signs. Some carried flags. Some brought their own candles, but they came. They walked. Pushed strollers. Children did not cry or misbehave. Persons said “Excuse me,” and smiled at each other. They knew this was important.

They lit each others’ candles. At 7:35 PM they began to walk slowly south on Bank Street filling the broad cross street with quiet, orderly, confident humanity. For such a large crowd, they were serious and stalwart.

Some carried signs reading “Thank You White Plains Bravest and Finest,” and “Thank you Fire and Police.” They sang impromptu versions of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” waving their flags. Their spirits were steady. Their pride high. No fear. Their love of country and fellow Americans was glowing.

The city stops for a remembrance

As dusk stole velvetly over the streets with an orange sun receding to the West, traffic on Hamilton Avenue stopped for this long, solemn, slow freight train of White Plains citizens. They took 30 minutes to reach City Hall, and still, from this reporter’s vantage, reached back to Bank Street.

There was no honking of horns from stopped autombiles. No animosity. Motorists recognized something special: thousands of tentative, yet determined steps of America on the way back were being taken.

The City Clergy in a remarkable ceremony

At the City Hall steps, with Main Street jammed with humanity, a quiet, respectful crowd drew close to the old neo-classic columned brick façade. They waved flags, their candles in their hands glowed like they do at a Meadowlands concert.

Mayor Joseph Delfino welcomed the multitudes thanking all for coming, thanking the White Plains firemen and policemen for their efforts the past week, but his remarks were hard to hear. Somehow you did not have to hear them. Everyone understood what he was saying. Everyone felt it, too. I did.The Mayor was surrounded by a host of the White Plains clergy from many churches behind him. The men and women of the cloth had assembled at his call to present an ecumenical service of remembrance and prayer for the victims of the World Trade Center disaster. There was a chorale group and ensemble. But, I cannot tell you who they are at this point. But it did not matter. We were all one person that night. One heart. One mind. America has not been that way for a long time these fourteen years as partisanship and ideology have taken over the public discourse and the political agenda.

The message you heard even if you could not hear it

There were no news releases or media briefs at this Candlelight Walk gathering. No text of the Mayor’s remarks was handed out. He did not make many. It was not that kind of event. It was regretfully special. You did not need to know who was offering the prayers, rabbi or priest, minister or pastor.

The different prayers and appropriate hymns rose on the cool early autumn night echoing skyward, warming hearts, and somehow fit splendidly meaningfully together. The White Plains clergy, in this reporter’s opinion, should do this more often under pleasanter circumstances. It was very special and so right.

The impromptu public address system could not be heard clearly beyond 100 feet. However, the people of White Plains listened and soaked in the spirit of the sweetly sung entreaties to The Almighty, with no catcalls, no disrespect, dedication and silent endorsement of the message. Children did not cry.

A moving sequence

The most moving sequence of the service occurred when each Man and Woman of God voiced a prayerful sentiment and the ensemble sang “Lord, listen to your children praying.” It was a White Plains “Moment to Remember.”

The service concluded with the throng singing “We Shall Overcome.” After several moving choruses with the multitude of citizens swaying together, the final stanza which goes “We Shall Stand Together,” closed the old 60s protest song with a roll of applause and cheers.

The Mayor rallies the crowd

Mayor Delfino came to the podium. With clergy, councilpersons, and congresspersons to his right and left, spoke proudly and earnestly to the crowd:

“Never would I have believed that we’d have such a turnout. I am overwhelmed, this is truly the greatest community in America,” and went on to thank all the city’s clergy for coming together for the service, saying that “God would get us through.”

The Mayor said that there was a Remembrance Book in the City Hall rotunda, which would be placed in the White Plains Public Library for all to sign. The Mayor announced this because not all of the thousands could march into the rotunda to sign it that evening, which brought one of the few laughs of the night.

Everyone leaves with a sense of a job to be done

The remarkable evening of remembrance and renewal closed with a rousing singing of “God Bless America,” with outstanding voices from the steps of City Hall, helping the citizens out with the second and third verses.

The crowd slowly dispersed.

They returned to cars, parents pushing strollers, couples arms over shoulders. Old city and county political rivals often adversaries, shook hands on the City Hall steps.

Some young persons in their 20s stood in front of the fenced off E J Conroy Drive, and, impromptu, shouted “USA,USA!” Then they changed what they were chanting. They crossed their hearts and began to recite, in unison: “The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag,” getting every word right with dignity and dedication.

You should have been there.

In retrospect as we remember and regret the war dead today, we should remember there are times when you have to take up arms to stop a menace threatening your way of life. The key word is threatening.

When fighting becomes an instrument of foreign policy by choice is when the decision to fight becomes muddled and not too clear.  The decision to go to war, refuse to go to war, or wait and see is difficult and how far to take the fight requires rationality, a clear objective and motivations that are not guided politically. I repeat not guided by political advantage.

The day the towers fell. Pearl Harbor. The sinking of the Luisitania. The sinking of the Maine. The firing on Fort Sumter. The Battle of Bunker Hill. They were all defining moments when our way of life was threatened.

The decision to fight sometimes isn’t  very clear. Other times when it is unclear it becomes perhaps the greatest regret on all Memorial Days. Deaths spent in vain.

Memorial Day: It is a day that remembers the price of the decisions to fight, good and bad, and should caution those with the power to wage war to weigh  carefully how to do it, how long to fight, and establish  a clear objective.

 

 

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