Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Peace Bell rings for astronauts

200 gather in Newport in tribute

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEWPORT - Under a gray sky and before a crowd of more than 200 mourners, the World Peace Bell rang seven times just after noon Monday in sorrowful dirge to the astronauts who perished in Saturday's space shuttle Columbia tragedy.

The crowd from around the Tristate was mostly silent as Wally Pagan, president of Southbank Partners, the developer of the Peace Bell, read off the names of the seven who died in the skies over Texas. After the reading of each name - Col. Rick Husband, Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, Cmdr. Laurel Clark, Capt. David Brown, Cmdr. William McCool, Dr. Kalpana Chawla and Col. Ilan Ramon of the Israeli Air Force - the massive bell tolled a haunting tribute. Seven deep chimes for seven dead heroes.

"We've all kind of gotten used to (the shuttle) going up," said Diane Wente of Newport, who attended the 15-minute memorial service with her mother, Jane Bradley of Southgate.

"I just couldn't believe what I was hearing on the radio when the news came out," Wente said. "I came down to show honor and respect to the lost astronauts. It's a national tragedy."

"We came to think about the astronauts and to offer sympathy to their families," Bradley said. "I just couldn't believe it happened. It's a terrible, terrible shock."

Monday's solemn service allowed area residents to collectively grieve and remember the sacrifice so many make in the name of their country.

Search for peace

"The World Peace Bell offers Newport a unique opportunity to join with the nation in a very special way to honor the seven astronauts who were lost on Saturday," Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli said in brief remarks during the service. "Their quest for knowledge, their exploration and their courage are very special attributes of our country. In a very real way, the quest for knowledge and the exploration of new frontiers does help the search for peace."

Cincinnati resident Gavin Eyer wore a reminder of the last time the nation gathered to mourn, a hat with the initials FDNY, for the Fire Department of New York. The initials have served as a tribute to the firefighters and others who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

They died `heroes'

"The astronauts who died on the shuttle Saturday are heroes, just like those who died on 9-11," said Eyer, who lives in Madisonville. "That's why I wore this hat, and that's why I came down here today. I heard about this on the news, and I wanted to pay my respects. They deserve that."

In a prayer during the service, the Rev. Don Smith of the Community of Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington spoke of how astronauts are like the early explorers of history "who wandered what lay across the river or on the other side of the hill or atop the mountain."

"We celebrate the gifts of courage and curiosity that enabled us to fly," Smith said. "To travel into the night skies of outer space, to build a space station and to stake a claim. We hope they did not suffer, and their loved ones and friends might draw comfort from their gifts and for their willingness to do brave things."

As Lt. Cliff Tupman of the Newport Fire Department first raised and then lowered an American flag to half-staff on a pole near the Peace Bell, resident Ray Muench dabbed at his reddened, misty eyes.

"I believe in what these people were doing," said Muench. "And I hope these people don't discontinue the flight plan. And I'm still worried about the three people still up in that space station - they need to get home. They'll need a shuttle to do that."

Tupman, 45, a firefighter for 18 years and an Air Force veteran, said he was honored to play a role in the ceremony.

"I support and love this country," Tupman said. "And for people who give their lives for this country, we need to things like this. They need to remembered."

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com

Full coverage of the Columbia tragedy

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