BOSTON — Bostonians gathered Tuesday, one year since two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, to honor the wounded, pay tribute to the victims, and to thank the thousands who offered help during those moments of crisis.
“You have become the face of America’s resolve for the whole world to see,” Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd of survivors, first responders and public officials gathered for a tribute service at the Hynes Convention Center. “People know all about you … they know your resolve. They know who you are.”
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Biden spoke about the bombings as a global terrorist attack, and as his voice rose, he praised Boston’s strength.
“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,” he said.
Biden was among a handful of officials who spoke during the ceremony, including Tom Grilk, the executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, former Mayor Thomas Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick, who highlighted the city’s sense of community in the aftermath of the bombings.
“There are no strangers here,” Patrick told the audience. “In the days and weeks after the marathon last year, we were reminded how few degrees of separation there are, in fact, between us.”
He said the memorial was a celebration of the community’s kindness and grace.
“I hope … that we remember ‘community’ because it all adds up to an enduring example of the power of common cause, and of working together and turning to each other when we could have easily turned on each other,” Patrick said.
The solemn ceremony offered Bostonians a chance to heal collectively, and possibly find closure.
“There is no way to walk down Boylston Street without thinking about the evil spilling of precious blood, the hateful strike on a world treasure,” the Rev. Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, said. “But we are also reminded of the amazing capacity of the human spirit to rise in heroism, compassion and sacrifice.”
The BAA’s Grilk, addressing first responders, marathon volunteers and medical professionals, said it was a privilege to honor not only the lives lost, but also the lives saved.
“We saw Boston Strong in the extraordinary dedication of our medical professionals — on duty and off — who poured into world class hospitals such expertise and distinction and renown, that only in this community in the face of such catastrophe could so many lives have been saved,” Grilk said.
The four victims of the attack and its aftermath — Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi and Sean Collier — were remembered as “guardian angels.”
“We remember those who died as pieces of us. The intellectual charm of Lingzi. Sean’s commitment to justice. Krystle’s infectious smile. And the childhood charm of Martin,” said Patrick Downes, who lost part of his leg in the explosions. He was one of three survivors to speak during the ceremony, a feat which Biden took a moment out of his remarks to recognize.
“To those survivors, my God, you have survived and you have soared,” Biden said. “Just to hear each of you speak, you are truly, truly inspiring. I’ve never heard anything as beautiful as what all of you just said.”
Menino took the stage to a standing ovation, his eyes glistening.
“This day will always be hard,” he said. “It will never be easy to gather close to that finish line.”
Menino then turned to speak to the injured, noting some may have trouble hearing him due to the damage the blasts did to their ears, or because of the “fancy way” he talks.
“When the lights dim and the cameras go away, know that my support and love for you will never waver, whatever you have to do to recover and carry on, know that the people of Boston and I are right there by your side,” he said.
After the service, politicians, survivors and first responders walked through the rain to the marathon finish line as bagpipes played. They marked a moment of silence in memory of the attack. And as the National Anthem was sung, the American flag was raised at 2:49 p.m. — the precise moment the first bomb exploded.
As church bells and bagpipes gave way to silence, the crowd cleared, many crossing the newly painted finish line.
But the throngs will return in less than a week, when a million spectators are expected to line the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton to Boston to cheer on those running the 118th Boston Marathon.