By Hugh G. Willett
Monday, September 12, 2011
LOUDON — Hundreds of residents of Loudon and surrounding communities gathered Sunday on the Veterans Memorial Bridge to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The gathering began at 7 a.m. with the playing of the national anthem, the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and the firing of a rifle volley on the courthouse lawn. Breakfast was served courtesy of the local Hardees and McDonald's restaurants.
A few minutes later, as many as 300 people moved onto the bridge to pick up rollers and begin painting, with buckets of paint and rollers set up every 25 feet.
Karen Green arrived at 8 a.m. with 9-year-old daughter Emily and her friend, Molly Carroll, also 9. The girls said they had a good time painting but were not really sure what the event was all about.
"She was born three months after 9/11," her mother said.
Jarrod Fowler, age 13, said he understood why he was there painting. "This is a chance for us to give back to the community," he said.
With hundreds of rollers at work it didn't take long to finish the bridge.
"In two hours we had it all painted," said Eddie Simpson, the roads supervisor for Loudon County. He said the bridge was badly in need of painting.
According to Simpson, Tennessee Department of Transportation has been planning to paint the bridge for a couple of years. TDOT pressure washed the bridge Friday, and donated 400 gallons of white paint, he said.
After the painting was complete, the crowd returned to courthouse square where lunch — including hot dogs from Elm Hill Meats Inc. and pizza from Dominos and Papa Johns — was provided.
About 500 T-shirts commemorating the event were given away. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency had a portable BB-gun range set up for children on the courthouse lawn.
All of the labor needed to serve the hundreds of guests was provided by volunteers, including Loudon City Councilman Mike Cartwright.
"Some of these folks were here at 4:30 this morning," Cartwright said.
At about 1 p.m. the Loudon High School marching band started across the bridge under an archway formed by ladder trucks from the Lenoir City and Loudon fire departments. Hundreds of local residents who had returned to the courthouse square after lunch followed the band onto the bridge.
At the middle of the bridge, U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, joined by state Reps. Jimmy Matlock and Julia Hurley, both Lenoir City Republicans, and state Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, each took a hand with the paint roller by finishing up a small unpainted portion of the bridge.
Duncan said he considered it a "very special privilege" to be among those who had turned out to show their love for their country.
"We live in the greatest country on earth," he said.
The crowd on the bridge also was treated to a flyover of four Air Force T-34 training planes from the World War II era. The planes flew by once in a diamond pattern and returned a few minutes later in the "missing man" formation.
The bridge event was held to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and to pay respects to the emergency workers and service men and women who have lost their lives in the war against terror, said Tim Brewster, a Loudon County veteran who, along with retired Loudon County Judge William Russell, helped organize the event.
"Everything went well," Brewster said.