"As president of this land," President Obama said, "I promise you your country will be with you every step of the way. We are not going anywhere."
An estimated 142 people were killed when a killer "EF-5" tornado swept through Joplin the afternoon of Sunday, May 22. Scores more remain among the missing and the death toll is likely to climb.
The tornado, estimated at nearly a mile across with winds up to 200 miles per hour weaved a path of destruction over Joplin last weekend [from just west of Iron Gates to an area just east of the city], destroying thousands of homes and businesses. Hundreds were hospitalized. Much of the city is in rubble.
President Obama paid specific tribute to two of the heroes of the storm. He told the crowd at Missouri Southern and those around the nation watching on television the story of Dean Wells, who worked at the now-destroyed Home Depot. Obama said Wells led people to safety after storm sirens sounded. Wells died after a wall fell on him yet, the president said, the people he had led to safety were spared.
Obama also paid tribute to the courage of Christopher Lucas who helped customers into a cooler at a convenience store [corrected 5/31 to a pizza restaurant]. The President said when the door of the cooler would not stay closed Lucas secured it with a bungee cord, until the storm pulled him to his death.
Amid "heartbreak and tragedy, no one is a stranger," the President said. "Everyone is a brother." [He added "sister."]
Earlier in the program, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said, "We stand on hallowed ground. He said while nature brought "a storm the likes of which we have never seen, the storm has brought a spirit of resilience the likes of which we have never seen."
"What our nation and the world have seen this week is the spirit of Joplin, Missouri," the governor said. "And we are humbled by it."
Thousands of Joplin and Joplin area residents attended the program on the Missouri Southern campus. Crowds not only in Taylor Performing Arts Center but in other auditoriums where the speeches were shown via live television hookups, the audience repeatedly responded with applause.
Rev. Aaron Brown, pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Joplin, told his personal story of riding through the storm. He told of "running and praying and searching" just after the tornado passed.
"God tells us that death does not get the last word," Rev. Brown said. "Death does not win, ever. Even when it thinks it does. Life wins. Life wins."
Two other Joplin religious leaders, Father Justin Monaghan of St. Mary's Catholic Church and Rev. Randy Gariss of College Heights Christian Church, also appeared at the Memorial Service.
Music was provided by the Joplin First United Methodist Chancel Choir under the direction of Larry Sanborn.
The Missouri Southern Southern State University's Leggett & Platt Athletic Center is the site of Joplin's shelter for those displaced by the storm. [Their privacy is being protected in part by members of the Missouri National Guard.]