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Minnesota Remembers: A Memorial from the Heartland
By Marisa Helms
Minnesota Public Radio
September 16, 2001

Officials estimated that over 30,000 people attended the memorial service at the Capitol Sunday. See additional images.
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Tens of thousands of people came to the state Capitol Mall in St. Paul Sunday to take part in a memorial service for the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. While those who attended were saddened, there was also a sense of determination and patriotism that left many people feeling a sense of community.

A steady but light rain fell as thousands of people made their way to the Capitol mall for "Minnesota Remembers: A Memorial from the Heartland."

An estimated 35,000 people brought with them a sea of umbrellas and many found creative ways to display and wear the American flag. The crowd made a rich tapestry of red, white and blue around the Capitol steps. Many said they were drawn to the event as a way to heal.

Jim McGowan of St. Paul said he and his wife found comfort in being with others. "I think there's something about being in a crowd this size that just sort of helps you magnify your own feelings. It's not like watching it on TV. You get to feel the spirit of the people by just being amongst them, and knowing that this is a country that stands together," McGowan said.

It was one of the colder and wetter days in months, but still, thousands came. There was an eerie yet comforting quiet during the 30 seconds of silence requested by Peg Chamberlin of the Minnesota Council of Churches. She called it not an empty silence, but the sound of a community being knit back together, stronger than ever.

Up from the mall, the steps of the Capitol were also awash in color. It was a well-organized show of solidarity. Minnesota's military personnel and political dignitaries shared the steps with the University of Minnesota marching band, the Minnesota color guard and the Sounds of Blackness.

Two dozen American flags adorned the staging area, and five wreaths were ceremoniously displayed midway on the Capitol steps. Four of the wreaths were for the firefighters, and those in the military, law enforcement, and emergency medical personnel, who have died helping others.

For Bill Phillips of Brooklyn Park, honoring those in uniform who lost their lives in the attacks was important for him and his family. "We're here to show support for America and the cause of freedom around the world. For the people who serve our country, not only military, but police force, firefighters, things like that. The job they're doing is worthwhile and people do appreciate that job, and it's one of the things that makes our country great," he said.

•Gordon Aamoth Jr. called home to Wayzata Tuesday from the north tower of the World Trade Center after a plane rammed the south tower. There was no call after another jet struck the north tower a short time later. Aamoth, an investment banker, worked on the 104th floor of the south tower, just above where the second jet hit. His brother, Erik, spoke to the gathering on the Capitol. Listen to his comments.

•Gov. Jesse Ventura concluded the ceremony with a speech to the thousands who gathered. Listen to his comments.

Listen to the complete Memorial from the Heartland.
The fifth and final wreath represented the families whose loved ones died in the attacks or are still missing.

Native Minnesotan Gordon Aamoth was in the World Trade Center and remains missing. Erik Aamoth shared his feelings about his brother with the thousands of Minnesotans on the Capitol mall lawn.

"My brother is alive. He will be alive to me for the rest of my life. Whether he has survived or not, my brother will always be alive to me. Normally, we think of heroes as soldiers of war or rescue people, like the ones represented here. But I think Gordy and the other victims of this attack are also heroes, because they gave up their lives pursuing their dreams working, striving, achieving, and exercising the freedoms that define democracy," he said.

Several members of Minnesota's congressional delegation were present, as were St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, and Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. Former Vice President Walter Mondale was a featured speaker. He said the terrorists' aims will never be fulfilled. He said Americans are bound more together now than in any time in history. He said those responsible for the attacks will be found and destroyed.

"We must remember that this is not a war against another civilization. It is not aimed at Islam. Rather our war is aimed at those who worship the God of Hate," Mondale said.

A theme of religious and ethnic tolerance was woven throughout the two-hour ceremony. Leaders from Minnesota's diverse communities were on hand. Including Hamdy El-Sawaf, executive director of the Islamic Center of Minnesota.

"Islam, the religion of mercy and tolerance, prohibits aggression against innocent civilians and it terminates perpetrators. We Muslims confirm that the aggressors deserve punishment irrespective of religion race, nationality, or gender," El-Sawaf said.

Last to speak was Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who spoke of all Minnesotans - no matter one's race or ethnicity - as part of a large family working through the pain of the attacks together. "While this gathering of Minnesota families is to comfort to what has happened, let it also be a sign of hope; hope and determination that together, united in family, strengthened by love, driven by opportunity, and tempered by respect for all humanity, we will overcome this tragic moment," Ventura said.

During the memorial, speeches were interrupted by the Minnesota Air National Guard aircraft flying overhead in the missing man formation. Helicopters also flew by, and at the start of the ceremony, an unauthorized release of 30 doves circled above the crowd before flying away.

Participants sang several patriotic songs including America the Beautiful, and the National Anthem. The event closed with God Bless America.

When the memorial was over, confetti streamed from the roof of the Capitol, and the sea of bright red, white and blue became fainter as people headed home.

Collette Vandergriff of Vermillion, Minnesota, said she was inspired by the memorial, which, she says, gave her a renewed sense of safety. "I was very impressed with the pageantry. I didn't realize that we could pull this off as well as we did today. I was totally impressed with all the different types of uniformed people and women, men, absolutely incredible. I'm glad I live in the state of Minnesota."

As the crowd thinned out even further, a man stood at the top of the Capitol steps, took a trumpet out of a duffel bag, and played Taps. And fire trucks that had been parked in a long line near the Capitol during the ceremony turned on their lights and sirens, leaving the Capitol grounds. The convoy seemed meant as a sign of remembrance and solidarity, and it left many of those still lingering on the steps in tears.