Four planes -- three buildings -- 2,977 lives -- and 74 minutes that changed the lives of every American.
These were the solemn words with which Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, began this year's Patriot Day ceremony at Brooks Field Tuesday.
Fort Knox remembered the lives of those murdered at the hands of terrorists and honored the heroes who wrested others from death's grasp on that fateful September morning 17 years ago.
"September 11, 2001 is a day that many of us can recall with astounding clarity. We remember where we were and what we were doing when we received word that a plane had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and that sinking disbelief when we learned that the South Tower had been struck -- this was no accident."
Evans reminded listeners of the pandemonium that ensued and of those who purposed their lives to stop the terrorists' destructive in- tent toward the nation.
"We remember the utter chaos and sense of loss that unfolded [as] we learned that the Pentagon had been hit," said Evans. "And we remember with bitter pride of knowing that 40 Americans on Flight 93 decided that our Capitol and our White House would not be the final targets of the terrorists that day. We marveled at their heroism."
Evans said the events of 9/11 are far reaching and still affect Americans every day, serving as a reminder of the tragedy but also as praise of many heroes' sacrifices.
"In the 17 years since that fateful day, our nation has been at perpetual war, and each of us has had to adjust to our 'new normal,' … even now the consequences linger," Evans said. "So today, on Patriot Day, let us reflect. Let us recall the tragic events of that day and remember the victims who perished. Let our spirits not be dampened by the evil deeds of the hateful, but rather let our spirits rejoice at the bravery of the committed and the willing sacrifices [of those] who gave their all that others might live."
Evans said freedom is knit into the American soul, making the heroes' examples contagious.
"Because of their deaths, all our lives have been changed. … [Terrorists] wanted Americans to live in a state of fear, and they tried their best to suppress the fiber that has been a part of the American fiber since the Revolution," Evans said. "We honor those men and women who perished that day … and patriots like many of you here today who stand watch, day after day, to safeguard us all."
Deputy Fire Chief Jason Lewis mirrored that sentiment when he spoke of the 343 firefighters who died trying to rescue others.
"'Never forget' is a term we associate with the events that happened on Sept. 11, 2001, and we must never forget those who perished [there]," Lewis said. "[We must remember] the thousands of others who perished or were injured on that day, [and] include the military personnel we've lost due to the events of 9/11. We who remember must never forget and ensure that others never forget. 'Never forget' means educating those who follow us -- those too young to remember."
Lewis said that in acknowledging the virtue of the 9/11 heroes' decision to confront tragedy and danger, many find a ready answer when called upon to decide.
"My daughter was two days from [her second birthday] and has only the memories of what she's been told, what she's viewed on television and from observances [of memorialized firefighters] like these with her father, who is a firefighter," Lewis said. "[She] just finished Air Force Basic Training … and her desire to serve our country has been a stark reminder for me of why we do what we're doing here at Fort Knox. … We choose to [honor] firefighters, first responders, police officers, Soldiers and citizens who run into the fray when called or when needed rather than retreating -- on that day and every other day."
Evans said the best homage that Americans can pay to the fallen is to live free; the best way to never forget is to live ready to defend freedom.
"When [I'm] asked by people, 'What is special about America?' the answer is always an easy one for me," said Evans. "America is the land of the free because it is the home of the brave."