Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service technicians, men and women from each branch of the military, the Rolling Thunder veterans advocacy group and several government leaders gathered at the Johnson City Housing Authority’s Memorial Park Apartments Thursday to help dedicate Northeast Tennessee’s only Liberty Garden memorial to the 2001 terrorist attacks on America.
The morning ceremony began with a convoy of emergency response and military vehicles that paraded down Legion Street and arrived at the garden at 101 Dyer St. with a Rolling Thunder motorcycle escort.
The sky darkened and thunder rumbled faintly in the distance as Housing Authority Director Ed Zimibicki and Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry welcomed a crowd of about 100 spectators and special guests and the first responders and military personnel they came to honor.
Pastor Vic Young opened the ceremony with a prayer. The crowd echoed Young’s amen and thunder rolled again, louder and more distinctly. A Marine Corps Color Guard presented the colors. Johnson City police, fire department and emergency medical service officers raised a flag. Vocalist Annabelle Smith sang the National Anthem, and just as Smith’s last note faded, thunder clapped and a light sprinkling rain began to fall on the garden.
The rain continued gently as the featured speaker, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, remarked on the significance of the 9/11 anniversary, the lives lost and the heroism displayed. Recalling the horrors of attacks, Roe said, “That was a very scary time for this country. And the response that was made (by) the first responders ... and the heroism I saw and we saw on that day to me was overwhelming.”
“What a statement this community, the Keystone community, the Housing Authority and all the stakeholders who brought this beautiful park here to remind us makes,” he said, noting that the Liberty Garden is the only memorial of its kind in Northeast Tennessee.
The National Keep America Beautiful program created the Liberty Gardens initiative following the 9/11 attacks and has coordinated the creation of more than 1,000 of the memorials in communities across the country. In addition to the Housing Authority and the Keeping Johnson City Beautiful committee, major contributors included the Johnson City Power Board, which donated and erected the flag pole, and two teams of Christ In Youth No Sweat Projects volunteers, who laid its brick paver walkways and planted its flower beds.
As the rain picked up and began to soak the garden’s red, white and purple blooms, Zimbicki closed the ceremony, saying “It is our hope that the Memorial Park Liberty Garden will serve as a visible symbol that honors America, promotes patriotism, and reminds visitors as well as passers-by of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on Sept. 11, 2001, and as a perpetual reminder to all of us of our responsibility to not take for granted our values and rights of liberty and freedom.”