The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, began just like any routine day, recalled Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola, the senior noncommissioned officer at U.S. Army Installation Management Command and master of ceremonies at the San Antonio 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony.

But by 8:46 a.m. EST, when American Airlines Flight 11 first hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the way Americans would pursue their daily lives changed forever.

Ten years later, San Antonians gathered at the city's own symbol of heroism and sacrifice -- the Alamo -- to remember the 2,996 victims who died that day, the 6,229 who have died defending freedom abroad since and their loved ones who remain.

"San Antonio is a community that over the generations has known the meaning of sacrifice and valor; that there is no better place to commemorate the events of 9/11 than here at the Alamo," said San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who opened the ceremony with words of welcome. "Today as a community of 1.3 million people we give respect and honor to the men and women serving us in uniform who over these last 10 years have been called beyond the call of duty to protect our nation in a post-9/11 world."

The commemoration joined military leaders, city and elected officials, the San Antonio Police and Fire Departments, religious leaders, more than 20 other civic and federal organizations and hundreds of San Antonians simply wanting to give their respects. The ceremony followed the sequence of events of that morning, marking each plane crash with a moment of silence and audio news clips that brought back the shock and horror of that day.

The Alamo Rangers, who oversee security of the Alamo, raised and lowered the flag to half-staff in honor of American Airlines Flight 11. Eagle Scout Matthew Wilkes and Girl Scout Gold Award-winner Jessica Clayton, alongside military, SAPD and SAFD leaders, laid a yellow wreath of flowers draped with a sash that read, "We will always remember."

Between the moments of silence for the four planes, speakers remembered the courage of the 421 New York City firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and court officers who lost their lives rushing into the inferno, rather than away from it. Ciotola thanked San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood and San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus, both of whom also spoke on sacrifice and service, respectively.

Speaking on behalf of military members, Ciotola continued, "We have lived our dream in the service of this great nation…we have been to war. We have done your bidding. Ladies and gentlemen, we have endured great trials and tribulations for no other reason than those who were compelled to climb the hundreds of stairs at the World Trade Center that morning -- simply because we gave you our word."

The second plane to hit the World Trade Center was noted by a news recording.

"Oh my goodness! There's another one," gasped a newscaster. "This seems to be on purpose. Now it's obvious, I think that there's a second plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. There's been a terrorist attack of proportions we cannot begin to imagine at this juncture."

The SAPD Color Guard gave a 21-gun salute to United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the South Tower, and an Army bugler played taps.

Commander of the U.S. Air Force Air Education and Training Command, Gen. Edward A. Rice, Jr., also spoke during the ceremony. He reminded the audience of the enemy's steel resolve to destroy our country.

"We should not underestimate what is at stake in this conflict, as it is about our freedom and way of life," he said.

Gen. Guy C. Swan III, commanding general of U.S. Army North, echoed the sentiment.

"This community of San Antonio, this 'Military City, U.S.A.,' understands better than most the need to press on, to persevere and to never forget the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf," he said. "Let us use this time, in front of this monument to liberty to recommit ourselves to preserving the freedoms that they can no longer enjoy, and let us renew our commitment to those three hallowed words: duty, honor and country."

The haunting strains of "Amazing Grace" played on bagpipes followed a moment of silence for the victims of American Airlines Flight 77 and the Pentagon.

U.S. Marshall Robert Almonte then spoke about heroes. Guest speaker Texas Sen. Jeff Wentworth quoted former President George W. Bush's words that "al Qaida misjudged the American character," pointing to the country's unity, determination and the dozens of non-profit foundations that sprang up to help victims.

Rabbi Aryeh Scheinburg and Moderator of the Curia Rev. Martin Leopold gave a closing co-prayer.

As a symbol of our nation's resilience and resolve, the ceremony ended with Ciotola reading the final words from United Airlines Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer before the plane was forced down in Shanksville, Pa., "Let's roll!" and the ringing of city bells by the San Antonio Council of Congregations.

Chris Peche-Schulz, whose son Mark Schulz serves in the Army, said the event was "wonderful and very well-planned." Sept. 11 compelled her to found Mothers of the Military in 2003, which later became San Antonio's first chapter of the Blue Star Mothers. She was working at Our Lady of the Lake University at the time and sought support from other military mothers.

Emma Bedoy-Perez, now president of Blue Star Mothers Chapter 4, said she appreciated hearing the reaction of the news reporters.

"Unfortunately, we get so busy back to our routine and everyday lives that we not necessarily forget, but we don't remember," she said. "A service like today brings it all back so we can remember those who were lost, our military that joined because of that and now have also since lost their lives…it all brings it back to the forefront. And that's important."

NowCastSA recorded a live stream of the event, which can be viewed at http://www.nowcastsa.com/9-11.

Page last updated Mon September 12th, 2011 at 00:00