Friday, January 31, 2014

The 11 & The 19

            Yesterday marked the 7 month anniversary of a tragedy that struck my home community.  This is a day that I haven’t ever been able to write about or explain the feelings that I had.  The horrific events of that day left our community united, heartbroken, and desperate for answers.  For on June 30, 2013 19 firefighters from the Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives in the Yarnell Fire.  That morning I had been in the presence of one of those men’s fathers.  I typically don’t find myself in fire stations but on that morning I had to go because my finger had swollen to the point that my wedding ring needed to be cut off.  I was there mere hours before that man would lose a son, a boy that I had gone to high school with.  It was a devastating time for our community and yet it brought a unity that couldn’t be described.  Rather than three separate cities, we were one and were united in honoring those fallen men.  The rodeo and the 4th of July parade were used to honor those fallen heroes and many tributes still stand today.  There are still 19 purple ribbons tied to the fence of Chino Valley High School and there is a spot in the baseball dugout dedicated to honor Wade Parker. 

            I haven’t ever written about these events because I didn’t feel I could do the situation or those men justice.  These were men with families, wives, children, fiancés, etc.  These were good men and we mourn their loss.  I didn’t write this because I suddenly felt like I had to the words to describe the situation, these men, my feelings, or any of it.  However, tonight I was able to pay homage to these men and I wanted to express those feelings.

            In June 1973, 11 volunteer firefighters lost their lives.  These men were from Kingman, Arizona and one of them was a principal at the time.  Last year Kingman opened a new high school and in honor of this man it was named Lee Williams High School and their mascot is the volunteers.  Tonight they held a silent night basketball game.  Though I have grown up around the sport, I was unaware of what that would even mean.  A silent basketball game????  During this basketball game the crowd is asked to be silent (no cheering, clapping, or any sound) until the team has scored 11 points.  Last year was the first time for this event and tonight marked the second.  I was curious because I wondered if a gym-full of people could really be silent and to pay their respects to those who have lost their lives.  I was amazed to find that they were silent, even the Lee Williams coach hardly made noise and would only direct the players if he absolutely needed to.  It was amazing to watch.

            I walked in thinking of the 19 men from my community and continued to think about them until the 11th point was made.  It was made off a 3 point shot with about 2-3 minutes left in the first quarter.  I could see the firefighters in uniform across the gym as the crowd erupted in applause.  And then I couldn’t see them anymore as my eyes misted over.  It was an incredible feeling in that room and something that I won’t soon forget.  It was an honor to be there tonight and it is with great respect that I honor those 30 men.  Their last call has come and gone but as we remember and honor them then they are always in our hearts.  God bless the 11 and the 19.