Sullenberger made a public statement for the first time at the celebration, saying, "We were simply doing the jobs we were trained to do."
Banners flew above businesses, streets were closed, and microwave TV towers dominated the sky all around the Town Green as media from all over the world descended on the town of Danville to be there for the first public appearance of the pilot and his family since the fateful events of Jan. 15.
Sullenberger is the pilot who safely landed US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River after it struck a flock of geese and lost both its engines. With quick thinking and cool response, the pilot reacted to the loss of power by bringing the plane in for a landing in the frigid waters. New York emergency personnel ferried everyone off the plane within minutes.
As a result of his actions, all 155 passengers and crew survived what could have been a devastating mishap.
Since then Sullenberger and his family have been thrust into the international spotlight, with media from all over the world trying to talk to them about the accident, their lives and each other. The family was flown to Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration of President Obama, received well wishes from President Obama and then-President George W. Bush, and has been given a massive Welcome Home celebration here in his hometown.
Mayor Newell Arnerich presided over the event, which was held on the Town Green near Danville Library. "Clearly there are 155 reasons," a smiling Arnerich stated to the crowd of 5,000, "why our town is celebrating his courage under extreme circumstances."
The celebration kicked off with musical presentations by the San Ramon Valley High School Marching Wolves, the U.S. Army Reserve Band and bagpiper Nick Theriault. The colors were presented by the U.S. Air Force Color Guard out of Travis Air Force Base, the National Anthem was performed by SRVHS student Grace Leer, and a fighter pilot swooped over the crowd.
Arnerich was effusive in his praise for "Capt. Sully" and the courage he displayed under the extreme circumstances of the forced landing, saying "If you have any doubt what a hero is, this man is a hero."
The mayor, who presented Sullenberger with a key to the city, told the throng of well wishers that he'd received dozens of calls, letters and e-mails offering their congratulations to Sullenberger. Included in those calls were Sir Richard Branson and Arnerich's own son, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. "My son said to tell you, Captain, that his unit would fly with you anywhere, anytime."
Along with Arnerich, the entire Town Council was onstage as well as a number of area dignitaries including Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary N. Piepho, newly elected State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, and U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D., 11th).
McNerney praised the courage and dedication of Sullenberger and his flight crew. He said that pilots and crew are trained to handle trouble, but there is always the question of what they will do when that day comes.
"On Jan. 15, trouble found Capt. Sullenberger. He had no more than two minutes to safely set that aircraft down. He did what he was trained to do," McNerney said.
McNerney said it was Sullenberger's calm and leadership which made that landing happen, and he applauded the captain's dedication to duty in staying with the aircraft until all passengers were safely off.
Police Chief Chris Wenzel and San Ramon Fire Protection District Chief Richard Price each took turns offering commendations to Sullenberger. He was named an honorary police officer, the first such citizen commendation ever given, and was presented by Price with a Citizen Medal of Valor.
The huge crowd roared its approval when Sullenberger's wife Lorrie took the stage. Due to a request from the US Airline Pilots Association, the family is still restricted from speaking about the crash itself, but it didn't stop Lorrie Sullenberger from talking about the man flying the plane.
"I knew when I married Sully that he was the most honorable man I've ever met," she said through tears. She went on to say, "I knew what the outcome would be that day because I knew my husband. But mostly, for me he's the man that makes my cup of tea every morning."
Sullenberger said she and her family had been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and praise they've received. "There's no words to express how grateful we are for all of you. We were so thrilled to come home to Danville. I have to say, we love Danville!"
Finally, Capt. Sullenberger himself took the podium, amid standing ovations, thunderous applause and chants of "Sully! Sully! Sully!" After thanking everyone for coming he said simply, "Circumstances dictated that it was this experienced crew that was scheduled to be on that particular plane on that particular day. Let me tell all of you, we were simply doing the jobs we were trained to do."
When the applause died down, someone in the crowd shouted out, "Just another day at the office," bringing laughter and more applause.
After the ceremony, the Sullenbergers along with family and friends were treated to a reception inside the Danville library.
The day was crowded, but the mood among those in attendance was jubilant. Resident Ed Soria said not only was Sullenberger the right guy at the right place, but this story happened at a time when it was needed. "I'm thrilled to be here to honor such a heroic person in these troubling times."
Stephanie King agreed. "It's been a tough week for Danville with the loss of one of our young ones, so it's really a good way to end the week."
Jill O'Hara said the inclement weather and the big crowds were a small price to pay. "Danville's just so proud of Captain Sully and we just wanted to come out here and let him know how much we appreciated what he did," she said.
Monte Vista High School junior Megan Gordon said knowing Sullenberger was from Danville made her proud, and seeing all the people who turned out for the celebration was a testament to the type of town Danville is. "It kind of makes me feel like I live in this small town," she said. "I don't know everyone in my class but look at this, how everyone is coming together to honor him."
Danville resident Peter Adams agreed. "It's not often that we get to honor a real hero, instead of a celebrity hero." He added, "It makes me nostalgic about the way small town America is. Everyone knows each other, and helps each other out."