HOT SPRINGS — St. Mary Church in Hot Springs echoed as Fire Chief Ed Davis rang the bell, a tradition observed for firefighters who have died, as a remembrance to the fallen first responders in the 9/11 attacks 16 years ago.
The bell ringing, bagpipes playing and first responders singing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner” were poignant moments of prayerful patriotism during the first breakfast and interfaith prayer service to honor first responders at St. Mary Church in Hot Springs Sept. 11.
About 300 first responders including police, sheriff, firefighters, disabled military veterans and others came to the event from 6 to 9 a.m. Though the morning had adult input and help, teenage members of the Columbian Squires, Circle 5700, at St. John Church in Hot Springs, came up with the idea and led the charge with 14-year-old Dayton Myers at the helm.
“I feel that they need to be respected, they need to be honored. They’re very underappreciated. Who better to honor them than the young people,” Myers said, who is chief squire.
Twelve squires are members of the Knights of Columbus youth organization.
“Most of our squires are in their late teens so they are millennials. We are doing something. We’re trying to prove through the squires, and the youth groups also, that there are still young people active in the Church.”
Diamond Head Police Department Chief Joel Tyner, who is also a firefighter and youth pastor at First Southern Baptist Church of Magnet Cove, said people sometimes misunderstand the work they do.
“We do have a heart, that’s one of the main things. We’re eager to help, we’re dependable, hardworking people.”
Myers, a freshman at Catholic High School, joined the squires about four years ago. The idea for the event started in February at their meeting. The squires donated $800 out of their general fund, but also raised $3,000 through special collections at St. John and St. Mary Churches in Hot Springs when Myers made an appeal before each weekend Mass in August. Total donations added up to about $5,000. Myers pointed out that his father, David, a K of C program director, and Hans Purkott, K of C special events chairman, “put in all the hard work while I’m in school” for the event.
“Our knights and obviously people at the state level are amazed that his faith, his desire, his commitment to charity, the religious … nobody ever seems to be surprised at what he does,” David Myers said of his son. “He’s our spokesman, even for the Knights, when we need to raise awareness or money, he’s our go-to guy.”
Knights of Columbus and Women of Mary members served pancakes, eggs, biscuits and gravy and other fixins’ to first responders. Roughly 125 carry-out breakfasts were also handed out.
Chief Davis said 9/11 is “such a mixed jumble of emotions” of heart-wrenching sadness for those killed and pride in the first responders doing what they always do. Hours before the breakfast, about 30 Hot Springs firefighters responded to a large-scale apartment complex fire on West Grand Avenue in Hot Springs at 12:18 a.m. Everyone escaped uninjured and firefighters contained the blaze about an hour later. Though tired, many still made the event.
“They made a commitment to Hans and Dayton, everybody wanted to do this,” Davis said. “It takes a special person to be a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, to go in the middle of the night to help someone in need … we certainly covet the prayers for our safety.”
Firefighter Jason Shepperd, who was called in to help put out the fire though he was off duty, said as an Army veteran, “the military gets a lot of the credit, but firefighters, policemen don’t get a lot,” despite risking their lives daily. “Serving my country means a lot to me.”
Still dedicated to St. John Parish in Hot Springs, the Myers, including wife Darla and daughter Lexi, now 19, moved to Little Rock in the summer of 2015, so Dayton could attend Christ the King School in Little Rock and then Catholic High. He is on the football team and plans to join more clubs, but still plans to stay committed to altar serving at St. John at least once a month.
“I love doing charity work,” he said and was “really close” to former Pastor Father James West, now serving at St. Edward in Texarkana.
“I would say he has a profound faith, far more so than one would normally expect in someone his age,” said Father West, who came back to serve as his confirmation sponsor. “He’s inspiring to adults who know him. He certainly is to me. I think he’s an extremely devout young man, just very mature in his faith.”
Myers said he hopes to one day serve people’s spiritual wellbeing.
“I’ve always felt the call to be a priest, and I still feel that call today,” Myers said.
It’s another reason why the prayer service part of the event was important.
“It’s to commemorate 9/11 for all the people who served and died,” Myers said. “To pray for the safety of our first responders and pray an event like 9/11 never happens again.”
Father Chinnaiah Irudayaraj “Y.C.” Yeddanapalli, pastor at St. John Church, said, “It’s a wonderful time to honor the first responders who do a lot in the line of duty. Some lose their lives … God uses them as his instrument.”
Father George Sanders, pastor at St. Mary Church, led the prayer service with other faith leaders at 7:30 a.m. Father Sanders spoke about the 2,977 lives lost on 9/11, including 412 emergency workers, walking attendees through the day. He explained that everyone did their duty, adding, “Today we also have a duty, to honor the ones who stand for us.”
Tyler Boughan, an EMT with LifeNet, who bowed his head in prayer at various times during the service, said the event, “Definitely means a lot, we’re very grateful that the community values what we do … the rare occasion we do get thanked by a patient, it’s an energy booster.”
During the prayer service, 330 St. Christopher visor clips were blessed to be put in all the first responders’ vehicles in Garland County. The medals were purchased with donations.
As a thank you and a way for the city to get involved, the Fire Department organized a parade of first responders through downtown Hot Springs that evening. Knights of Columbus members passed out American flags and collected donations to go toward Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas.
Chief Davis, who organized the parade, said Myers has “such a great heart to honor first responders” that the department wanted to also honor him as grand marshal.
“I feel very honored, but I am not the hero; they’re the heroes,” Myers said.
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