Perry’s remarks were followed by video of the victims’ grim-faced family members remembering their lives and expressing pride for their heroism. The brother-in-law of Cody Dragoo, another volunteer firefighter, remembered how Dragoo would leave notes for his wife, Patty, when he was traveling, and how he loved hunting and NASCAR.
Obama added his appearance at the memorial service onto a long-planned trip to Texas for Thursday’s opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library at Southern Methodist University. Bush sent his sympathies in a statement read at the service by Baylor President Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor who investigated President Bill Clinton.
Obama’s solemn reflections at the memorial required an abrupt shift in tone by the president, whose morning in Dallas was filled with smiles, music and pageantry as he and the other four living presidents celebrated one of their own. Less than an hour later, Obama was airborne over West, circling the scene of the explosion — still a harrowing site more than a week after tragedy first touched the small Texas town.
From his helicopter, Obama saw what looked like a massive construction site, with cranes and dozens of vehicles dotting a wide swath of brown earth. Piles of burnt rubble and scorched earth were clearly visible. Obama could also see the school field first responders used as a staging ground.
Obama has made such a trip countless times before, touring damage and consoling survivors of other disasters including Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and a string of mass shootings. It was just one week ago that Obama was in Boston, offering solace to the nation at a memorial for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, another larger-than-life tragedy that compounded the nation’s grief the same week as the explosion in West.
A parade of fire trucks and other first responders’ vehicles paraded through Waco en route to the ceremony at Baylor’s sports arena. The vehicles entered under an archway formed by the ladders from two fire trucks with an American flag hung between them. Many of the mourners wore the uniforms of police, firefighters and paramedics and wiped tears from their eyes.
Brian Crawford, fire chief in the Dallas suburb of Plano, attended with 11 others from his department even though they live 100 miles from West.
“With these unfortunate circumstances, it’s time to show we are all a family,” Crawford said. “These were our brothers and they paid the price.”
After the service, the president and first lady Michelle Obama were planning to visit privately with relatives and friends of firefighters killed in the explosion, the White House said.