FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Sept. 11, 2008) - A distinct, thunderous sound in the distance abruptly ended the peaceful morning for Chaplain (Col.) James Boelens, who was spending a day of excess leave from the Pentagon by relaxing in his backyard under a clear, blue sky. He entered his home to find a minutes-old telephone message from his son in college. Confused by the message of an attack on the Pentagon, Boelens turned on the television as a sober reality set in. The date was Sept. 11, 2001 and within minutes, Boelens would don his military uniform, voluntarily report to Fort Belvoir, Va. and be on an ambulance heading to provide support at the attack site.

This was one of several personal stories shared during a Patriot Day memorial ceremony at the Gift Chapel yesterday. Sponsored by U.S. Army South, the ceremony honored the victims of the 9/11 attacks with a video presentation, a moment of silence at the exact time of the initial impact on the World Trade Center, the playing of taps, a rendition of "God Bless America," and reflections by a few U.S. Army South Soldiers.

"[The attacks of Sept. 11th] changed history and gave us a time to reflect on what is really important in life," said Maj. Gen. Keith M. Huber, U.S. Army South commander. "We are here to remember and pay our respects and we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our families and to our nation to ensure that we're not simply surviving life, but that we're making a contribution."

Boelens, currently the U.S. Army South command chaplain, spoke of the many personal contributions and sacrifices made by Americans everywhere since the attacks on 9/11.

"[Americans] are a kind and generous people," said Boelens. "The heroes of September the Eleventh include tens of thousands of common citizens who simply resolved to deny terrorism and tyranny a foothold in our world. America is filled with good people."

Another U.S. Army South Soldier personally touched by the events on 9/11 was Lt. Col. Patrick T. Budjenska, the U.S. Army South inspector general. Spectators in the chapel listened intently as he described how his boss at the time ordered him to attend a meeting across town on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Literally minutes before the attack, Budjenska reluctantly departed the Pentagon to attend the meeting.

Holding up a palm-sized chunk of marble that was presented to him at the conclusion of his Pentagon assignment, Budjenska explained that it was a piece of the Pentagon building destroyed in the attacks.

"I carried this in my rucksack when I went into Afghanistan," he said of the marble piece. "It's the heaviest piece of stone I've ever picked up."

Budjenska said the rock symbolizes the refocusing he's made in his life since the attacks.
"I've chosen to pursue reconnecting and dedicating myself to my Savior," said Budjenski. "I've also placed greater emphasis than ever before on my family, and I've vowed to be a good neighbor. As devastating as it was, I've seen a lot of good and a lot of strength from people just like you," he said to the audience, many of whom previously served on the front lines in the War on Terror.

Huber reemphasized the strength and courage displayed in the days since the attacks on 9/11.

"Within each of us is that sense of courage, love, respect, hope and determination," said Huber.

The attacks "caused us to search for and bring that out; to realize there's more to life than ourselves."

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Huber challenged that simply remembering is not enough.

"Everyday we have the opportunity to demonstrate to people the purity of our heart, the strength of our character and the courage of our beliefs," said Huber. "We should remember always to not be spectators to a memory, but to take action."

Huber stepped down from the podium as the audience reflected on his words. The sound of a lone bell pierced the silence. It tolled 30 times-once for every 100 persons who died during the tragedy that day-Sept. 11, 2001.