Patriot Day at Knox
September 13, 2013
Yesterday marked the 12th anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on the United States. The day was also about reflection and honoring the nation's first responders.
Chaplain (Col.) Byron Simmons, Knox's senior chaplain, said, "(We) come in great collaboration of the first responders--the first in, and the last out. We remember the flag as it flew from the wreckage that day."
Maj. Gen. Jeff Smith, the Cadet Command and Fort Knox commander, said it was a solemn day, a day to reflect on the 3,000 innocent lives that were taken so suddenly.
"Those of us who watched these events unfold--and the few of us here whose lives put us on the scene of these tragedies--are left with sadness that time cannot heal," said Smith. "But we were also reminded of the courage shown that day by our nation's first responders. To all the first responders here today, on behalf of everyone I want you to know that we appreciate what you do.
"The events of 9/11 made it clear just what perils you face each day that you lace up your boots. We're honored today to have with us Al Wallace, Dennis Young and Mark Skipper, three firefighters assigned to the Pentagon (fire station) on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Though they would say they were just doing their jobs, their actions after the crash that day were truly heroic."
Smith also reflected on those in the towers and planes who had accepted their fate on that day.
"We all heard the heartbreaking stories of the individuals on those planes and those towers accepting their fates with dignity and poise," Smith said. "(They used) their final moments to make phone calls to let those loved most know how they felt.
"These are the people we remember today, the mothers who told their husbands to raise good children, the men who told their parents not to worry about them and the kids who never got to grow up at all."
Smith noted that in stealing the lives of innocents the highjackers showed humanity at its worst.
"But on that bleakest of days, we also saw humanity at its best," explained Smith.
Smith also paid homage to Wallace, Skipper, Young and first responders by saying they not only answered the call, they also put their lives on the line to save others as panicked civilians were running away from the towers policemen raced toward them.
"As frightened civilians escaped from the Pentagon firefighters like these three men stepped into the smoke," he said. "Today we take time to reflect on their bravery, and on the heroism of those first responders who didn't make it back."
Smith added that these men came to assist the members of the military who were under attack. He said their actions helped saves lives and America will never forget their bravery.
After Smith addressed the crowd, the fire truck--Foam 161--which was hit during the attack on the Pentagon, was wheeled in on a flatbed truck. The truck will become part of one of the exhibits at the Patton Museum.
Fort Knox Fire Chief Marvin Gunderson said he's asked each year to say a few words during the anniversary or observance--what is now Patriot Day.
"Each year I relive the memories, the horrific visions, the angst and the anger," said Gunderson. "Call it critical incident stress or PTSD (post traumatic-stress disorder), but I, and my brother and sister firefighters and first responders, all Americans and much of the world, have this day--in 2001-- etched into our very souls.
Gunderson pointed out that 12 years ago for a short time, terrorists stopped the country in its tracks. But they also brought the country together and made it stronger and more resilient, he said.
"Like Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of President (John) Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., we are here to remember--as this is a day, an event and a tragedy that should never and can never be forgotten.
"For most of us here, the images of 9/11 are forever burned in our psyche; from our first views of the World Trade Center's twin towers and the initial assumption that a tragic accident occurred, to the realization that we were under attack."
Gunderson added that the day was also about remembering the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as the numerous other government agencies who have taken the fight to the enemy while protecting the nation's interest abroad.
They have been fighting evil abroad on a myriad of battlefields and countries and many have paid the ultimate price. Thousands more have been wounded, explained Gunderson.
"Our own Duke Brigade, 703rd EOD (Explosive Ordinance Detachment), 233rd (Transportation Company), 4th Cavalry Brigade, 3rd ESC (Sustainment Command) Expeditionary), 11th Aviation and others have shed their blood as a direct response to 9/11 and our resolve to protect the homeland," he said. "Today, we recognize that sacrifice and remember--lest we forget)."
He also paid homage to the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on that fateful day, the largest in fire service history, who were protecting their fellow citizens.
Gunderson then explained that the tolling of the bells is done throughout the country. He said it's a tradition that began more than 100 years ago and still continues today.
When fire boxes were on most corners of larger cities, they were used to report fires over telegraph lines and provided information to firefighters throughout the city. They would report the location through a series of codes that rang into the fire houses. The fire houses would transmit alarms in the same way using a series of codes with ringing bells. When a firefighter was lost in the line of duty, the code was a series of four sets of five bells. This was to alert all within hearing distance that a firefighter had made the ultimate sacrifice.
"This practice, once heard only in fire stations and fire halls, has become an integral part of remembrance of 9/11," Gunderson explained.
The bells were then tolled for those lost in the Pentagon; for those from Flight 93 that fell in Shanksville, Pa.; and for the 343 New York City firefighters lost that day.
"We now add to traditions with the fifth five--to honor those lost throughout the world in the war on terrorism," said Gunderson. "Let us continue to recognize and remember--lest we forget."