Boston honors marathon survivors, first responders

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by KELLY WHITESIDE

USA TODAY

Posted on April 15, 2014 at 2:58 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 15 at 8:24 PM

BOSTON – There was a dancer who vowed she would perform again, a young newlywed who spoke movingly of the outpouring of love, a mayor who spoke from the heart as his eyes filled with tears and a vice president who struck the perfect closing note at Tuesday's Boston Marathon Tribute.

"You will send a resounding message around the world. Not just the rest of world but the terrorists," Vice President Joe Biden said, his voice rising, full of defiance. "That we will never yield, we will never cower. America will never, ever, ever stand down.

"We are Boston. We are America. We respond. We endure. We overcome … and we own the finish line."

Biden's speech closed an emotional two-hour Tribute punctuated by moving speeches and music provided by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and many vocalists. A crowd of about 2,700 survivors and first responders packed the Hynes Convention Center off Boylston Street.

After the Tribute, survivors, family members of those killed, first responders and officials walked to the finish line for a moment of silence.

During the moment of silence at 2:49 p.m. ET, the time the first bomb exploded, only the sound of raindrops hitting umbrellas could be heard. Church bells rang. An American flag was raised. Bagpipes sang their mournful song.

The themes of resilience, community and strength carried the day at Tuesday's Tribute.

Biden said during last year's marathon, the whole world witnessed "ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things" after two bombs killed three people and injured more than 260 at the finish line.

He recounted the story of Carlos Arredondo, the cowboy hat wearing hero who ran to help Jeff Bauman and others injured in the blasts.

"He wasn't a firefighter, he wasn't a trained medic, he wasn't a police officer," Biden said of Arredondo, who wore a black cowboy hat to Tuesday's Tribute.

"Yet he instinctively, he ran to," the injured, Biden said. "That's what Bostonians do, that's what the whole world saw.

That's what America does."

Governor Deval Patrick emphasized how Bostonians pulled together during the tragedy.

"We are not strangers. We are in the end one community, I hope we hold tight to that," Patrick said.

Several of the speakers remembered those who died in the tragedy: Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu died from injuries suffered during the explosions. MIT police officer Sean Collier died in a shootout.

Survivors shared their own stories of pain and recovery. Professional dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis lost her lower left leg. Days after the attack, she vowed to dance again. She did.

The most touching moments from the survivor 's speeches were also among the funniest. Haslet-Davis talked about the joy of walking into non-handicap bathroom for the first time.

She closed her speech with a call to action. "My wish if I were allowed to grant one — is that we use this day not just as a day of remembrance but as a day of action. I wish that everyone who is facing adversity can have the support that we have had.

"Look around. People in your community need your support. They need your patience and they need your time in dealing with similar situations such as ours. Let April 15 be a day that we all work together to make the world a better place."

She also shared a lesson she learned. "Something can go … horrifically, terribly wrong in a matter of seconds, yet it's up to us to make every single second count after, because believe me they do."

Thomas Menino, Boston's former mayor who has been diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer, was given a standing ovation as he walked up the dais. His eyes filled with tears as he spoke about the first responders. "The folks who worked in the medical tents – they were the real heroes of that day," Menino said. He added that he'd visited with a group of survivors the night before, calling them, "The most resilient group I've ever met."

Patrick Downes was a newlywed at the time of the attack. He and his wife Jessica Kensky each lost a leg, but also gained something from the horror of that day. "We would never wish the devastation and pain we have experienced on any of you," he said. "However, we do wish that all of you, at some point in your lives, feel as loved as we have felt this last year. It has been the most humbling experience of our lives. We hope you feel all the emotion we feel when we say, 'Thank you.'"

In nearby Charlestown, staff members of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital gathered in a conference room to watch the tribute to the bombings' survivors, including many whom they'd personally helped to heal.

Spaulding was where 32 of those who suffered the worst wounds – limb loss, serious burns and nerve damage – went to begin their recoveries.

Several wore "Boston Strong" t-shirts as they watched the tribute. Spiritual care director Joan Horgan smiled when she saw on the screen faces of survivors who'd opened up to her about their faiths during their most trying days.

"After seeing them go through so much pain and struggle to come to terms with what happened to them," Horgan said, "it's just so uplifting to see their progress and how far they've come."

Contributing: G. Jeffrey MacDonald

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