Mississippians commemorate Sept. 11 with prayer, other services

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some Mississippians used prayer to remember those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the nation, while others honored military veterans who have served overseas in the past five years.

In Biloxi, a group from New Jersey chose the fifth anniversary of the attacks to help create a community park in an area damaged last year by Hurricane Katrina.

“I can’t think of a better way to honor that day. To honor the people here, to help them, that’s what it’s about,” said Elaine Evans, a clinical psychologist.

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She was among the members of the Jewish Federation from Northern New Jersey who worked Monday in Biloxi’s John Henry Beck Park.

In Jackson, the Healing of the City Coalition sponsored a prayer assembly on the state Capitol steps Monday morning. Religious leaders, elected officials and community leaders shared prayers to commemorate victims of Sept. 11 and of Katrina, which left a broad swath of destruction in south Mississippi just over a year ago.

“We know that prayer changes things,” said state Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson. “If we depend on God, all of our dreams come true.”

One pastor said prayer helps heal the pain still felt by those who lost loved ones.

“There’s a healing that needs to take place all over this city and all over this world,” said the Rev. Robert Landing of Sweet Rock Missionary Baptist Church.

At least four people with Mississippi connections died in the attacks:

— James Cleere, a 1964 graduate of Hattiesburg High School who was living in Des Moines, Iowa, was working as an insurance representative and had been sent to a company meeting in New York. He was staying at Marriott World Trade Center between the twin towers.

— Jerry “D.D.” Don Dickerson, 41, grew up in Yazoo County and was a systems analyst and lieutenant colonel in the Army. He was killed while working in the Pentagon.

— James “Joe” Ferguson, 39, who grew up in Durant, was director of the National Geographic Society’s geography education outreach program. He died aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

— Ada Mason, 50, who was from Picayune, was a budget analyst for the Army and died while working in the Pentagon.

In Starkville on Monday, students gathered on Mississippi State University’s drill field for services to commemorate the attacks that killed thousands in New York and Washington and in a plane crash in rural Pennsylvania.

Aaron Rice, a Mississippi State student and wounded combat veteran, said he was inspired to enlist in the military after watching coverage of the attacks.

Rice was a senior at Oak Grove High School near Hattiesburg on Sept. 11, 2001. He said some of the other students expressed doubts about the nation going to war.

“I remember thinking, ’How could we not go to war?”’ said Rice, who lost a leg in combat in Iraq. “American citizens had just been attacked on American soil. It’s the greatest struggle of the 21st century.”

Another Iraq combat veteran, Sgt. James Terry of West Point, a member of the Mississippi Army National Guard’s 223rd Combat Heavy Engineering Battalion, spoke during the ceremony. Also present was William Brooks, 24, of Southaven, who lost both of his legs during a 2005 combat mission in Iraq. The former Mississippi Army National Guardsman also is a student at MSU.

After attending MSU as a freshman for one semester, Rice enlisted in the Jackson-based Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment. His unit was sent to Iraq in January 2005.

The 22-year-old Sumrall native was driving a Humvee during a mobile assault in Al Anbar Province on March 18, 2005, when his vehicle struck a land mine. The blast mangled the lance corporal’s left leg, requiring amputation below the knee.

Now a junior political science major and attorney general of the MSU Student Association, Rice said he regrets he was unable to return to duty.

He said he learned later that four of his Marine buddies were killed and five were wounded in a subsequent ambush of his platoon.