Eagles commemorate 9/11 victims
NEW PLYMOUTH, 7 Sept. - Hours before the USA's opening match of the World Cup against Ireland on September 11, the players will shift their focus to commemorate the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Eagles’ media manager Dallen Stanford confirmed the squad will attend a 10:00 service at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in New Plymouth.
The service is believed to be the first in the world to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks, due to New Zealand’s proximity to the international date line, and the Rev Kim Francis expects a congregation of more than 800.
“We just feel honoured. The whole church is rising to the occasion,” he said.
The United States embassy to New Zealand contacted Mr Francis three months ago to suggest a memorial service to offer people of all nationalities an opportunity to mark the anniversary of the attacks.
“This is not just a national event for the Americans, this is international. (Nearly) three thousand were killed, 70 nations were involved, more than 300 firefighters killed. My son-in-law is a firefighter, so that makes it pretty real,” he said.
He confirmed that David Huebner, the US ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, and an as-yet unnamed honorary guest will attend and speak at the service.
The US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band will also perform at the ceremony.
Among other elements, New Plymouth firefighters will escort the US and New Zealand flags into the church and the congregation will observe a minute's silence.
St Andrew’s has hired large TV screens and a new sound system, enabling it to broadcast proceedings to people outside the church.
David Edginton, the US embassy spokesman, stressed the importance of sport in strengthening relations between the USA and New Zealand.
“The US embassy is pleased to have the opportunity to support the USA Eagles in the upcoming Rugby World Cup, which is a great opportunity to expand the people-to-people connections between Americans and Kiwis through sport,” he said. “We have been overwhelmed by the warm and enthusiastic welcome of the team to New Zealand.”
Despite the significance of the occasion, USA coach Eddie O’Sullivan hopes his team will be able to walk the fine line between commemoration and concentration on the match against Ireland.
“Motivation isn't going to be an issue for these lads, they're always easy to fire up. It's going to be emotional, I think. For me, part of my job is to contain the emotion. If they get too emotional, they'll make mistakes, and if they make mistakes they'll pay a big price,” he said.
Mr Francis reckons the Eagles may find inspiration in his service. “(But) in the end, they have to win on their own. They can’t rely on God. ‘In God we trust’ only goes so far,” he said.
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