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BLOG: 'America Needs Towns Like West,' Obama Says At Memorial Service

Our final post, 4:51 p.m.: Taps is played and folded U.S. flags are delivered to family members of the deceased.

In the background sit flag-draped coffins and photos of those lost in the explosion. Amazing Grace is played on bag pipes, and the memorial service comes near an end with a benediction given by Bishop Joe S. Vasquez.

Update, 4:15 p.m.: President Obama described what makes the town of West such a tight-knit community.

It's the kind of town in which neighbors could count on each other, the type of community in which a parent would learn from someone else if a son or daughter was in trouble, he said. A place where everyone pulls together in the midst of a tragedy.

"America needs towns like West," the President said. "That's what makes this country great. It's towns like West."

He also said that though the town had been tested, they would be surrounded by love.

Update, 3:57 p.m.: President Obama received a standing ovation and cheers as he took the stage after a gracious introduction from Sen. John Cornyn.

"I cannot match the power of the voices you just heard on that video and no word accurately describes the courage that was displayed on that deadly night, " the President said after watching a moving tribute video of family members remembering their lost loved ones.

Obama said he could, however, offer the love, support and prayers of the nation.

He also said that while many turned their attention to the tragedy in Boston, they had not forgotten about people in West.

"We stand with you and will not forget even after the cameras leave," he said. 

Update, 3:47 p.m.: Morris Bridges would usually run out immediately after getting a call to work a fire, his wife, Carmen Bridges, said in a tribute video.

The day of the fertilizer plant explosion, however, Bridges stopped and picked up his two-year-old young son. The father of three told his son he loved him and that he would be right back.

“He loved his job,” she said. “He was always ready to work.”

Update, 3:31 p.m.: Baylor University President Ken Starr says at the memorial service that there are no fences and that everyone is there as neighbors.

He says travelers along Interstate I-35 know to stop at the Czech bakery and that everyone in the area loves “going across the river” for West Fest during Labor Day weekend. 

Update, 3:15: A moving video tribute of family members talking about their loved ones is showing now. Dallas Fire-Rescue Capt. Kenny Harris's son says he was "an awesome dad."

He said he lost his father, but the fire department lost a brother. "It really is like a second family there," Harris' son said.

Update, 3:05: Governor Perry thanks the President and first lady for coming and applauds people in the city of West for their fierce loyalty to one another.

“First responders know better than anyone that there’s no such thing as a routine emergency,” Perry says. “The responders in West certainly knew that, but it didn’t slow them down as they raced toward that burning factory.”

After Perry’s remarks, friends and family members of the victims share a video message about their fallen loved ones. 

Update, 2:55: A leader with the State Firemen and Fire Marshal’s Association of Texas says the outpouring of love for the victims as well as the West community has been astounding.

“You get to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself, that’s bigger than one man. You get to live your life to the fullest,” says Bill Gardner. “Our brothers showed their commitment, they got the opportunity to live life to the fullest. We must continue on.”

He says we will always love and support the family members of the victims, just as they loved and supported all of us.

Update, 2:40 p.m.: Many fire fighters and first responders are wearing a black band over their badge as a symbol of respect for their fallen peers. Chaplain Jimmy Duncan explains why he chose to leave his badge uncovered, before leading the mourners in prayer.

“The cross that is upon it is never covered, because this cross is a symbol of hope. And I’m here to tell you this afternoon, there is hope,” Duncan says.

Update, 2:30 p.m.: Victims of the West Fertilizer Co. explosion are memorialized with a emotional slideshow and music. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle took their seats on stage to a round of applause. 

"We know the ground is still shaking and will be for some time," says Chief Ronald J. Siarnicki, Executive Director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Our original post: President Obama and the first lady, Governor Perry and Senator John Cornyn are some the political luminaries who will attend today’s memorial service in Waco for the victims of the West Fertilizer Co. blast. Thousands of residents, fire fighters and well-wishers from across the state are also expected to attend.

The memorial service will begin at 2 p.m. in Baylor University’s Ferrell Center, 1900 S. University Parks Drive.

With such an enormous crowd expected, there will be road closures and parking issues to contend with. If you’re planning to go, the Waco Tribune-Herald has the latest details; click here to see guidelines for today’s service.

President Obama will speak at memorial as will Governor Perry, Senator Cornyn, Chief Ronald J. Siarnicki with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Chief Ernest Mitchell, Jr., United States Fire Administrator, Bill Gardner of the State Firemen and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas and President of Baylor University, Judge Ken Starr.

If you are unable to attend, you can watch the service live online. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation plans to stream it from their website. We’ll also have a live audio stream on our website,  KERA’s Bill Zeeble and NPR’s Wade Goodwyn are traveling to the service and will have reports from Waco later today.

Investigators are still trying to figure out what exactly sparked the fire which caused the blast. On Tuesday they announced a crater more than 90 feet across and 10 feet deep was discovered at the explosion site.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.