ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Military, civilians and community members gathered in the early morning here at Memorial Field Sept. 11 to honor the men and women of the United States who lost their lives exactly 18 years ago and the thousands more who have perished since in our nation's ongoing fight against terrorism.

The events began with a solemn crowd completing a 2.5-mile walk while carrying bundles of small U.S. flags, each representing a life lost on 9/11. The remembrance walk ended at the RIA 9/11 memorial located adjacent to Rodman Avenue where each participant placed their flags in the Field of Honor behind the memorial.

The RIA 9/11 memorial consists of a brick replica of the World Trade Center twin towers standing on each side of a marble replica of the Pentagon. One tower is marked with a gold star, the other with a blue star.

A blue star, normally placed in a window, informs the public that an immediate family member is serving during a time of armed conflict. Likewise, a gold star indicates the loss of an immediate family member who served in hostile operations.

The participants placed a total of 2,996 American flags. Each flag represents one of the people who lost their lives on 9/11 and the subsequent 6,992 who have died since in support of the war on terrorism.

The 6:30 a.m. remembrance walk was followed by a mid-morning ceremony. To symbolize the sacrifice made by first responders on 9/11, Capt. Jeff Moritz, firefighter, Rock Island Arsenal, placed a firefighter's helmet upon a pillar. Benjamin Kay, police officer, Rock Island Arsenal, placed a police officer's hat on the other pillar.

"People still want to come to America, even after 9/11 because we are that beacon of freedom for all the world's people," said Maj. Gen. Steven Shapiro, commanding general, U.S. Army Sustainment Command. Shapiro, who served as the guest speaker, said America owes its freedom to those who died in the terrorist attacks and those who have given their lives since.

"We remember those who died on 9/11 today and also we remember those who did pay the ultimate sacrifice while serving their nation. And so on days like today and other days that we celebrate America we should always honor our veterans and we should never forget them," he said.

A number of Gold Star Family members participated in the remembrance wreath dedication including Paula Steele, mother of Capt. Joshua Steele; Annie Cox, spouse of Staff Sgt. Nathan Cox; Jaimie Johnston, spouse of Cpl. BJ Luxmore; and Laura Mathena, spouse of Sgt. 1st Class Basil Mathena.

Conducted by Michael Barry, the All Saints Catholic School Choir, Davenport, Iowa, sang the national anthem. They also lead the crowd in singing "America the Beautiful" to end the ceremony.

Barry said this is the third year the choir participated in the ceremony and all members are first-time students to the event.

Jeanne O'Brien Von Feldt, principal, expressed her appreciation and honor for the school to be invited again to participate in the ceremony.