Alaskans in the farthest reaches mourn those killed by terrorists

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

From the remote reaches of Barrow to the urban centers of Anchorage and Juneau, Alaskans mourned the deaths of those killed in Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

In ceremonies and gestures occurring across the Last Frontier on Friday, they paid their respects and demonstrated that sometimes only distance separates Alaskans from New Yorkers.

''I feel like I am a member of the tribe of the United States,'' said Barrow City Mayor Jim Vorderstrasse.

In his remote enclave along the Arctic Ocean, there's a renewed patriotism in the wake of terrorist attacks that brought down four jetliners, leveled the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon.

Not far away, at the popular eatery Pepe's North of the Border, owner Fran Tate was contemplating closing shop for a 7 p.m. candlelight vigil planned at the Ipalook Elementary School.

''It doesn't look like anyone wants to stand still for what's going on,'' Tate said of the attacks. ''Most things don't hit us like that.''

A prayer service was planned at the Utkeagvik Presbyterian Church at noon to coincide the President Bush's call for a National Day of Prayer.

Ketchikan pilot Ken Eichner strung an 18-by-30 foot American flag from his helicopter for a flight on Thursday.

''Our country is having some real problems now, and I wanted them to know we back em,'' Eichner said.

All at once, the Nation weaved somber prayer with patriotic enthusiasm in a series of ceremonies and vigils on Friday. President Bush left a solemn remembrance ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral and told those cleaning up the wreckage in New York ''the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.''

At the Anchorage Performing Arts Center's Atwood Theater, a crowd of more than 2,000 interrupted Gov. Tony Knowles with a standing ovation after he thanked the military.

''As always and especially this week, Alaskans stand together in support, prayer and unity for our fellow Americans,'' Knowles said.

The ceremony was televised on the Alaska Rural Communication System, a state satellite channel that broadcasts to Bush communities throughout the state.

A crowd of about 1,500 at Juneau's Centennial Hall on Friday hummed as a lone Bagpipe played a haunting rendition of ''Amazing Grace.'' A day earlier, about 500 attended a noontime ceremony in Fairbanks where Nina Rawson, representing the local Jewish congregation said in an opening prayer, ''the surreal is real.''

A moment of silence was held at 12:30 p.m. in numerous ceremonies on Friday. During the day, some Alaskans asked for peace, others for revenge.

''We're a 'praise the Lord and pass the ammunition' type of organization,'' said Juneau resident Tim Armstrong, a former commander of the local VFW Post 5559. ''There's a part for each to play.''

Children and adults wrote messages on pieces of paper that will be combined into two books and sent to New York and Washington, said Juneau Mayor Sally Smith.

One such message said, ''I feel as if I know you and am your neighbor.'' Another sent greetings to someone named Evelyn and Richard and concluded, ''I wish I knew where you are.''

A statewide candle vigil was planned in which organizers asked that at 7 p.m. Alaska Time everyone step outside their home or business, or leave their car and light a candle.

''We will show the world that Americans are strong and united against terrorism,'' an announcement said.

A prayer circle in Homer brought about 100 people, including Hal Spence, a former Brooklyn resident who remembers watching the twin World Trade Center towers being built.

Both collapsed following Tuesday's attack in which hijacked airliners slammed into them.

''It's kind of painful to look at recent photographs of New York and not see them there,'' Spence said. ''I guess I am pretty thankful I live in Homer.''

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