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Town unites at vigil
Coming together to heal in Poolesville, Maryland.

The Gazette
October 10, 2001

As the missiles fell, Poolesville prayed.

Hours after President Bush announced Sunday that the United States and Great Britain had launched strikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan, hundreds gathered at Whalen Commons in Poolesville to pray for the many victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and to demonstrate patriotic unity.

The vigil -- which featured interfaith prayers, color guards and renditions of "America the Beautiful" and other songs -- had long been planned. But the opening salvos of what Bush said would be a "sustained, comprehensive and relentless" campaign infused the event with a sense of timeliness and renewed purpose.

"I thought there could not be a more fitting time for prayer and community," said Linda Nessul, one of the vigil's organizers and a self-described strong supporter of the president. The timing, she said, "was absolutely appropriate."

Prayer was plentiful at the vigil. Speaking under a darkening, cold sky to the assembled crowd, the Rev. Steve Hayward of St. Peter's Episcopal Church asked God for "strength and courage for the days ahead." He asked all to remember those in the armed forces who are working for "justice and a lasting peace."

John Chaney, a minister at Mt. Zion-Warren United Methodist Church in Dickerson, said people have asked religious leaders why so many people had to die. The answer, he said sadly, was "we do not know." What he did know, however, was that faith was key to dealing with whatever lies ahead. "There's none like you, Lord," he said, his voice rising and falling with emotion.

There was Buddhist prayer, too, in the form of a chant performed by members of the Kunzang Palyul Choling temple, located on River Road in Poolesville. The chant was meant to invoke the blessings of the Buddha for peace, explained one of the members.

Muslims and Jewish clergy were noticeably absent from the vigil, but were actively sought out, Nessul said. Organizers had contacted the nearby Islamic cultural center but had gotten no response, she said. One of the other clergy members had tried to bring a rabbi to the vigil but none were able to come, she said.

Poolesville lost no residents in either of the attacks, according to vigil organizers. But Joseph Murtha's 39-year-old nephew, James Kelly, was among those to die in the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Kelly worked for financial giant Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of one of the towers.

"This is a beautiful thing to do," Murtha said at the close of the evening. Echoing keynote speaker Rev. Lee Becknell of Poolesville Baptist Church, Murtha said, "we need to share the grief." A tribute to Kelly was set up on a table near the speakers' podium.

Yet even as attendants prayed for peace, support for Bush and the country's military objectives ran high.

"I'm 110 percent behind the president in everything he's done," said 17-year-old Ashley Beer, a senior at Poolesville High School. "We can't stand back and watch this happen," said Beer, who added she wanted to join the Air Force to contribute to the war against terrorism.

Bush, speaking earlier in the day from the White House, asked Americans for patience. The duration of the campaign against Osama bin Laden and other terrorists was on attendants' minds Sunday.

"I just hope we as a nation have the guts to stick it out," said Bob Ouellette, post commander of the Daniel-Jeffers American Legion Post 247.

Near the end of the evening, Ouellette played "Taps" on a bugle and a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as many in the crowd stared into their lighted candles and lost themselves in silent contemplation. Finally, all joined in a rendition of "God Bless America."

Tony Pirrone, another event organizer, said similar vigils would probably take place in the future, as the nation hunkers down for a protracted fight.

"We can't let this be the last [vigil]," Pirrone said.

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