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No Oprah, no Rudy, just hometown heroes

Sheila Gardner

It was dinner time back East as Pastor Pete Nelson of the Carson Valley

United Methodist Church offered an invocation Sunday for the dead and missing rescue workers in the terrorist attacks in New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

From the makeshift stage on the athletic field at Douglas High School, somebody handed a microphone to Ginger Jones and she began to sing the National Anthem without accompaniment.

A slight wind and cloudy skies had settled over the Carson Valley for this late afternoon tribute. About 350 people, including many of the Valley “soldiers of the streets” interrupted their Sunday routines for an opportunity to pay their respects to the people who died 3,000 miles away.

“We may not know their names,” Nelson said, “but we know their spirits.”

But now there is a firefighter whose name I know. He is Timothy Haskell, 34, of Seaford, N.Y., one of the identified dead at the World Trade Center. His brother, Thomas, 37, also a firefighter, is missing. A third brother, Kenneth, also a firefighter, is part of the rescue effort, searching through the rubble for some trace of Thomas to bring back to his widow and their three young daughters.

I learned of the Haskell brothers when I received a paper wristband bearing Timothy’s name at church on Sunday. A few minutes on the Internet told me almost more than I wanted to know. I can’t imagine the grief of their mother, Maureen, whose late husband was also a firefighter, and the other members of the family. That’s what drew me to the memorial service Sunday organized by the East Fork Fire and Paramedic districts and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

At the entrance to the football field — the place we usually go to celebrate sporting events and graduations — sheriff’s reserve officers and Explorers handed out ribbon pins and invited everyone to sign a banner which will be sent back East.

This somber occasion was the only opportunity for local law enforcement and rescue personnel to honor their fallen brothers and sisters as a family. Those who didn’t show up in uniform were dressed in red, white and blue.

Coincidentally, it was the same day a prayer and memorial service was held in Yankee Stadium for 20,000 relatives, and friends of the dead and missing, as well as entertainers, government officials and people who just wanted to pay their respects.

While our counterparts in New York applauded Bette Midler and Placido Domingo, we heard the sweet music of the six-member High Sierra Fellowship Worship Team.

Religious leaders from all over the world addressed the thousands in New York. We were comforted by the words of pastors Pete Nelson and Dan Steen who have shepherded us through many crises. No philharmonic for us. We listened to DCSO reserve deputy Ben Gillard’s beautiful rendition of “Taps” and the bagpipes of Rick James as he performed “Amazing Grace.”

Dignitaries in New York included Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Gov. George Pataki, former President Clinton, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.

Our speakers were Sheriff Ron Pierini, Douglas County Commission Chairman Bernie Curtis, Fire Chief Tod Carlini and John Tyson, Channel 8 newsman and volunteer rescue worker. The program included prayers and inspirational readings by Lt. Al Baumruck of the DCSO and East Fork Capt. Robert Lekumberry.

Nearly 50 emergency vehicles ringed the football field. About half way through the service, a scanner started crackling and two paramedics quietly slipped away to respond to an emergency call.

As we sat in the bleachers — still sticky and peanut shell-encrusted from Friday night’s football game — it was our time to reflect on the terrible events of the past week. Looking out at the majestic Sierra gave us a sense of the height and magnitude of the World Trade Center Towers. Our skyscrapers, however, are the handiwork of Mother Nature.

We prayed with our neighbors for those whom we never met. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with our own emergency responders — those men and women who might have breathed life back into your baby, held your hand when a spouse couldn’t be saved or attended to five men horribly burned in an explosion at the airport just the week before — helped us appreciate what it would feel like if such a tragedy happened here.

When the memorial ended, people talked quietly, then dispersed. The long line of emergency vehicles slowly paraded off the field. It was time to go home for our own Sunday suppers.

With our humble hometown memorial, we hope to forge a connection between our community, the Haskells of Seaport, N.Y., and the families of the thousands of others dead and missing. We know their names, we know their spirits, they will not be forgotten.

From one mother to another, a candle burns in Gardnerville for the lost Haskell brothers.

–Sheila Gardner is night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.