NEW PALESTINE — Bill McCoy stood proudly at attention Friday, as the New Palestine American Legion Post 182 held a 9/11 tribute at the Southern Hancock Veterans Memorial in New Palestine.
With the stars and stripes billowing at half staff, a crowd of more than 50 people gathered to commemorate the tragedy that took place the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
McCoy, a Koran War veteran, hopes Americans never forget the lives that were lost that day, or the first-responders who rushed in to save as many as they could.
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“It’s the American way to remember those who have come before you, and what they accomplished. We wouldn’t enjoy the freedoms we do without them,” said McCoy, who served in the Air Force.
The New Palestine resident was a driving force behind the design and construction of the veterans memorial, which was dedicated in 2018. It sits at the entrance of Sugar Creek Township Park along County Road 700W, just south of U.S. 52.
“This guy probably raised most of the money and paid for most of the bricks in here,” American Legion post commander Tom Avery said of McCoy.
While he’s not one to brag on himself, McCoy will proudly point out the bricks commemorating his relatives who served the United States military in various wars.
On Friday, he used the tip of his cane to point out a number of bricks with the names of his family members, including four of his five brothers. “That’s a nephew, a brother, another nephew,” he said, tapping his cane on the bricks below.
The bricks lining the veterans memorial are engraved with the names of veterans from a number of American conflicts, dating all the way back to the Civil War.
For McCoy, designing the stately memorial was a labor of love.
There’s a number of features that make the memorial unique, he said, like the fact that its circular footprint is 76 feet wide, a reference to the year America was founded in 1776.
Avery was proud to see veterans like McCoy turn out under cloudy skies Friday to commemorate the events that took place 19 years ago. The event in New Palestine was one of two events scheduled Friday. In the evening, another observance was held in downtown Greenfield.
“We just want to remember everyone that was involved that day, all the police and firemen and first-responders who lost their lives,” said Avery, a veteran who served in the Navy from 1986 to 1990. He led Friday’s memorial ceremony.
As the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, veterans removed their hats and saluted the flag as others covered their hearts. A chaplain led the group in prayer, and a veterans honor guard fired off three volleys in a 21-gun salute. “Taps” was played to round out the tribute.
Many first-responders from New Palestine and Sugar Creek Township were in attendance, their brightly colored service vehicles lining the drive.
Mike Fowler, the New Palestine American Legion post’s vice commander, was thrilled to see so many come out to commemorate such a tragic yet important event in American history.
“We should never forget the day we were attacked and lost so many lives, so we honor those were were lost,” he said.
“As people were saying last night, there were (nearly 3,000) people 19 years ago who were eating their last meal last night but didn’t know it. And families who would be looking at an empty chair the next day. A lot of people don’t think of that,” said Fowler, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army from 1973 to 1979.
“We need to remember that, and remember the firemen and policemen who were rushing in to try to get those people out,” said Fowler, 69, a former volunteer firefighter.
More than 400 firefighters and police officers died that day.