BY NICK BLUMBERG -- Howard Johnson hasn't had much sleep.
"We flew in last night, got in…a little after one? A little after one."
That's one in the morning. Five short hours later, he and three other members of Spokane County Fire District Four were getting some breakfast on their way up to Prescott Valley, to take part in the memorial service for the 19 men killed fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. The guys from Spokane are also members of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Just the day before, they'd helped organize a memorial for a first responder in their home state. After that was over, they went to the airport and headed to Arizona. But they are not complaining. It was important to them to come for Tuesday's remembrance and beyond.
The firefighters from Spokane were just a few of the scores of first responders who came for the Yarnell 19's memorial. Emergency crews drove in from around the state -- Casa Grande, Bullhead City, Daisy Mountain -- and from around the country -- Silver City, L-A, Sacramento. Looking around, the parking lot was filled with dark navy dress uniforms, purple commemorative ribbons, and the comforting white and red of American Red Cross trucks. Also there was Lutheran Pastor Mari Larson of Clarkdale: "We're here to help out the Prescott, Prescott Valley, and Yarnell pastors because they're already overwhelmed with dealing with people in grief. Their hands are pretty full right now, and it's really a privilege to come and help."
Leaders from around the region and around the country came to pay their respects. Governors Jan Brewer of Arizona and Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Senators Flake and McCain, cabinet secretaries Sally Jewell and Janet Napolitano, and Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden spoke to the families and friends of the lost men from experience. More than 40 years ago, his first wife and one of his children were killed in a car accident.
"The day will come when the memory of your husband, your son, your dad, your brother will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye."
Tears did flow freely at the service, as did applause for the sacrifice of the fallen men from the Granite Mountain crew…perhaps the most resounding applause went to its one surviving member, Brendan McDonough, who read the hot shot's prayer.
"…for if this day on the line, I should answer death's call, Lord, bless my hot shot crew, my family one and all. Thank you, and I miss my brothers."
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