BENSON — Nearly 2,000 sky lanterns drifted over San Pedro Golf Course Saturday evening, filling the night with a soft glow that served as a somber reminder of the 3,000 lives lost 20 years ago during 9/11.
Benson’s fourth annual lantern festival, which drew about 2,000 people, coincided with Patriot’s Day and the 20-year commemoration of Sept. 11, 2001.
“We are dedicating tonight’s event to the memory of those who perished in the attacks, and in honor of first responders who selflessly put their own lives at risk to respond to the scenes of the Word Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Somerset County, Pennsylvania,” Benson City Manager Vicki Vivian said in her opening remarks.
While the official lantern release was at 8 p.m., people arrived early to enjoy music, food, beverage and merchandise vendors and a kids zone.
Opening ceremonies included the presentation of colors by the Scottish American Military Society Post 81, taps performed by Max Frost and Eliseo Mendoza Jr. of the American Legion Family Post 45, and singing of the national anthem by Lisi Marsteller.
Participants came from all over to light up the sky in commemoration of first responders and patriots who have died in service to country.
“Those attacks represented the worst days in America’s history, but they also showed us some of the bravest acts in our history,” said Paul Nail, a Tucson resident who attended the event with family and friends. “When we heard about this, we wanted to be here to honor the first responders and remember all those who died in the 9/11 attacks. It’s hard to believe 20 years have gone by. I remember that terrible day as if it were yesterday.”
Fourteen-year-old Ryan Nail weighed-in with, “It was important for us to be here for this tribute. I think this is a beautiful way to remember and uplift the people who sacrifice so much for us.”
Benson Mayor Joe Konrad spoke of selfless sacrifice and how the events of 911 have left an indelible footprint on the country’s history.
“As a result of the war on terror, thousands of our young men and women were deployed to a hostile region,” he said. “The realities and horrors of war were suddenly introduced to a generation of people who had only known peace and prosperity.”
Konrad urged the crowd to always remember the sacrifices made by those brave American men and women who choose to serve.
“Their physical and mental health should always be one of our top priorities. My lantern this evening will be launched in recognition of this,” he said.
Saturday’s event marked Brandee Kearney’s first lantern festival. A Mescal and Palominas firefighter, Kearney said the commemoration holds special meaning for her, as an “amazing way to pay tribute and honor” all first responders.
Benson resident Ryan Moses and his family have participated in three of the four lantern festivals.
“I absolutely love this event, and so do our kids,” Moses said while preparing his sky lantern for launch. “I’m doing this for the 9/11 victims, our country’s military and our veterans.”
Steve Dupee, who is from Tucson, said the display of glowing lanterns drifting across the night sky is almost impossible to describe.
“Until you actually experience this, you truly underestimate its magnitude,” he said. “It’s incredible to watch, and a great tribute.”