9/11 anniversary: How Pensacola is honoring the victims 20 years later
As Pace Assembly Ministries Pastor Joey Rogers and a few of his trusted volunteers nailed almost 3,000 crosses into the vast field in front of the Pace Assembly of God Church last week to commemorate the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, members of the community stopped their vehicles to take in the sobering sight and share a few words.
"We have people even this morning that have pulled up," Rogers said in a Thursday interview with the News Journal. "I've had veterans who have pulled up with tears rolling down their face saying, 'Thank you for putting this display up and never forgetting.'"
The church at 3948 U.S. 90 constructed this same display on that same vast field in 2002. The Rev. Glyn Lowery, who was the pastor of the church at that time, said he knew he had to do something meaningful to honor the lives of those lost one year after the tragedy.
"No. 1, we had papers and magazines printed up, and videos of the events accumulated, and we made a display of it all in our gymnasium," Lowery said. "People could come, free of charge, walk through and see the history of it. And to really accent it, I decided we would put up 3,000-plus crosses and write the names of each person that died on each cross. And so, we made that display on the front lawn of the church. It was very moving. We allowed it to stay up for close to a month."
Rogers, who was pastor at the Assembly of God Church in Destin when the 9/11 attacks took place, said this will be the first time the Pace church has set up the cross display since 2002, when Lowery made that push to honor the one-year anniversary.
"There's not a person that stops by that is not deeply moved," he said. "When you see 2,799 crosses out in this grass, it puts the reality of the massive loss of life on that one day in perspective."
The 20th anniversary display at the Pace church has been in the works for almost a month.
"Just putting the crosses in the ground, we started Tuesday morning of this week," Rogers said.
The church also had an LED screen installed that runs a constant scroll of the victims of 9/11 and the 13 U.S. service members killed in August in Kabul, Afghanistan.
"Just to put it in perspective, one time through the entire list takes almost two hours," Rogers said.
The cross display will remain intact until Sept. 15. Rogers said he hopes people in Pace will use the extra time beyond Saturday's anniversary to educate young people in the community — who might not have been born when the 9/11 attacks happened — about the magnitude of that day.
"I have staff now that were not even born when this event took place," he said. "I would encourage parents, if they wanted to stop by, to tell their children what happened. Try to give them some perspective. Because really this display is as much about honoring the next generation as it is about honoring the victims. They're tearing down memorials and monuments across the United States, and what we really need to do is put more of them up so that our children and our children's children can remember, and be prepared to defend freedom and be brave in the days that are ahead."
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Jake Newby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8538.