Army Sustainment Command marks 9/11 anniversary
September 9, 2011
Everyone has their own memory of what happened. Some choose to refer to it as "9/11". Others seem to distance themselves referring to it as "the event," "that day" or even just "it".
When the time comes to publicly remember Sept. 11, 2001, recalling and retelling personal memories becomes a collective, almost therapeutic, way of dealing with the loss the United States has experienced in the last 10 years.
Stories of 9/11 floated through the air at dawn's early light the morning of Sept. 8, 2011, as Soldiers and civilians gathered at Rock Island Arsenal's Memorial Park. All were there for Army Sustainment Command's 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Memorial Walk. The walk gave participants the opportunity to become a part of the memorial, instead of mere observers.
Tony Middleton, who works at First Army, said that just being a part of memorial events is significant in itself. His memory of 9/11 hits close to home every year -- his birthday is on September 10, and every year for the past 10 years, it has been bittersweet.
Even though his birthday poses an inherent calendar connection, he said the vacation his family took to New York City the week prior to Sept. 11, 2001 is what really brings it home for him.
"It is profound for me and my kids because we were on a ferry on the way back from the Statue of Liberty and they were pointing at and taking pictures of the World Trade Centers," said Middleton. "So, the next week when it happened, it definitely brought it home for me and the kids."
Prior to the start of the walk, Maj. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, ASC's commanding general asked the crowd to remember those who died on Sept. 11, 2001 and during the War on Terror.
"What's important as you walk today is for you to remember that 10 years ago, 3,000 of our fellow Americans died in a couple of buildings," said Fontaine. "In the past 10 years 6,000 more have died to protect our freedoms and fight the War on Terror. Remember that as you walk."
At 6:30 a.m. the group of walkers paid respect to the flag as it rose near ASC headquarters to the sounds of reveille. Each walker picked up a bundle of 25 American flags to carry with them along the 2.25 mile walk. In all, 9,198 flags were carried along the route -- each flag memorializing one person killed in the attacks of September 11, or in the subsequent War on Terror.
Annie Cox, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Nathan Cox, died Sept. 20, 2008, in Afghanistan, said events such as the memorial walk mean a lot to her.
"Unfortunately, I'm here today because Nathan lost his life in the War on Terror … but to come here and support all the Soldiers and civilians means a lot," said Cox. "Of course the Soldiers will be here, but to see this many civilians participating is very heartwarming."
Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Castillo of ASC helped coordinate the morning walk and said that the crowd of walkers was a lot larger than anticipated, given a large civilian turnout.
"We were expecting maybe 150 to 200 civilians, and I'm guessing we probably have about 400 civilians here this morning," said Castillo. "We had about 225 Soldiers from ASC, so there's probably between 625 and 650 people walking. A very big turnout that we're very pleased with."
Vicki Ahlgrim with Army Contracting Command said she decided to take part in the walk because it is important to her that people remember.
"It's a reverent thing and I think everybody needs to pause," said Ahlgrim. "Sometimes it seems like people have forgotten."
As the walkers returned to Memorial Park, they were directed across the street, and into the Field of Honor behind the recently completed 9/11 memorial monument -- a set of towers and a small marble pentagon representing the buildings destroyed or damaged on 9/11.
In the Field of Honor, walkers stuck the flags they carried with them into the ground. As more and more flags were planted, they began to take on the shape of red white and blue "shadows," extending outward into the field behind the two towers of the 9/11 memorial.
The walkers appreciated having a part in constructing the temporary monument.
"I think it's a great idea," said Cox. "We have lost a lot of people in 10 years, both military and civilians. It's a beautiful morning for such a great dedication to honor all the men and women who have sacrificed."
Middleton said the memorial flags helped make for a meaningful event. "It was a great symbolic way to commemorate and to honor the victims of 9/11, and show patriotism for the country," said Middleton.
The commotion of the crowd subsided as Soldiers and civilians headed to their workplaces. As they filtered out, the quiet, serene field of red, white and blue remained, ready for the crowds to return for the memorial ceremony at 1 p.m.
Approximately 450 people gathered for the 9/11 Monument Dedication and Remembrance ceremony, narrated by Castillo.
"This memorial will forever be illuminated in memory of the sacrifice of those who perished since 9/11 and those who will continue to lay down their lives on the mantle of freedom," said Castillo.
Calling attention to the thousands of flags planted behind the brick memorial, Castillo said, "As you entered the ceremony area this afternoon, you may have noticed the massive field of small red, white and blue flags directly behind the 9/11 monument. This field is of utmost significance to today's 10th anniversary remembrance ceremony."
He explained how each flag in the Field of Honor represents each of the 9,198 civilians, firefighters, policemen, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Dept. of Defense civilians who have made the ultimate sacrifice since that September day in 2001.
"Unfortunately, this field continues to grow," said Castillo. "Since Aug. 23, an additional 11 American heroes have perished while serving."
Following Castillo's remarks, Brig. Gen. Brian Layer, Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Blake, Rock Island Arsenal Police Sgt. Christopher Walters and RIA assistant fire chief Brett VanScoy officially unveiled the 9/11 memorial. After the unveiling, Gold Star Families in attendance assisted Layer in placing a wreath of remembrance between the two towers and marble Pentagon.
For those in uniform and those who have lost loved ones serving their country, the past 10 years have been just plain hard. "But it's been harder by far and hardest of all for those Gold Star Families who have lost forever one that they loved so much and so well," said Layer.
Layer then introduced the ceremony's keynote speaker, David Pautsch, a Gold Star father, whose son, Cpl. Jason Pautsch, was killed on Good Friday 2009.
The elder Pautsch, a former Soldier, began by thanking the Soldiers and civilians for the appreciation they give to those who serve.
"I will never forget the scene on Rodman Avenue when hundreds and hundreds of you lined the street [along the route to the Rock Island National Cemetery]," said Pautsch. "It just flabbergasted me and I knew it wasn't just about my son, but I knew it was about what my son stood for. It revealed more about you, about your love for this country. I feel like I am among family."
Pautsch pointed out that while the Army comprises 48.8 percent of the total Department of Defense force in Iraq and Afghanistan, Soldiers sustained over 73 percent of the combat deaths.
"It's no wonder that the Army has such a sense of compassion, love and honor that they give to Gold Star families," said Pautsch. "It is embedded in them because the Army has paid a heavy price in the War on Terror."
Pautsch recalled the evening of the day he was informed of his son's death.
"One of the first thoughts that hit me was I know someone else who lost their son on Good Friday," he said.
Pautsch credits his faith for enabling him to get through the experience. "When my son was killed, I didn't lose him," said Pautsch. "I didn't go to the lost and found. I know exactly where he is. He's in heaven."
After the formal events of the day came to an end, Soldiers and civilians lingered a bit, sharing stories, snapping photographs, visiting the new memorial and crowding around the posters containing the names of those that died since 9/11 … proving, once again, that those who are gone will never be forgotten.