by Paula Matter
My annual tribute is early this year because a guest will be blogging in two weeks. The following was originally posted two years ago.
There are times I remember precisely where I was when a legendary event happened. The following are most prevalent and come to my mind readily:
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination
Robert Kennedy's assassination
Dwight D. Eisenhower's death
Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon
John Lennon's assassination
September 11, 2001
Huge emotional events that effected America, the nation, the world.
I never experienced a profound tragedy firsthand.
Until July 17, 1996.
If you live in my small, quiet borough, you'll know that date. It's forever etched in our minds, our hearts. Thirteen years ago tomorrow, we lost 16 high school students and five adult chaperones in the TWA Flight 800 crash.
For days, weeks, months after this tragedy, our tiny town mourned. As a community we stuck together as we attended funeral after funeral after funeral.
And we endured.
The angel visited us in the evening of July 21, 1996. She appeared as a cloud over the high school, and lingered long enough for many to see her.
Twenty-one smaller white clouds appeared at the angel's feet, at first in a circle, then formed two straight rows.
The first of many rainbows also appeared that evening. Two beautiful rainbows arched over us until the sun set.
It wasn't unusual to hear reports of more rainbows suddenly appearing. They were spotted at soccer games, track meets, swim meets.
One month after the crash, on August 17, 1996, we held a community memorial. Thousands of people gathered in the high school football field. Minutes before the service started, a gorgeous rainbow appeared. Those of us who live here weren't surprised, and we were happy to share it with so many others. The rainbow disappeared five minutes or so after the service ended.
Closure and comfort came in other ways too. Finally, after six very long weeks, the last body from our town was recovered and brought home. I remember that day well. A customer told me, "They found her." And we cried together.
On July 17, 1999, the Memorial Park opened on the grounds of the high school. I went there a few days ago to take new photos to share with you.
The names of our town's twenty-one victims.