ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – Two decades have passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; one decade has passed since Rock Island Arsenal dedicated a memorial both to those who died in the attacks and who have given their lives in military service since.
On Sept. 10, members of the RIA community, and of the surrounding Quad Cities community of Illinois and Illinois, gathered at the memorial for a late morning ceremony honoring and remembering the victims of the attacks and the servicemembers who have given their lives in combat in the past 20 years.
The memorial consists of two small towers made of brick, symbolizing the twin towers of the World Trade Center that came down in the 9/11 attacks, and a replica of the Pentagon, which was also attacked that day. One of the brick towers is marked with a gold star, representing those who have died in military service, while the other is marked with a blue star, representing those continuing to serve today.
A plaque at the memorial reads, “We will carry their legacy into the future and forever honor their selfless sacrifices in the name of freedom.”
During the ceremony, local first responders placed a firefighter’s helmet and a police officer’s cap atop the brick towers, in honor of the first responders who gave their lives on Sept. 11 while trying to save others. Leonard and Brenda Luxmore, the parents of Bryant “B.J.” Luxmore of New Windsor, Illinois, then carried and placed a wreath at the memorial; Cpl. Luxmore was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2012.
A field of small American flags was arrayed behind the memorial during the ceremony, with each flag representing a victim of the terrorist attacks. The flags had been placed earlier that day by Soldiers, civilian employees, and community and family members who carried the flags on a 2.5- mile walk that began as dawn broke at Memorial Field across from the memorial, and ended at the memorial.
At the start of the flag walk, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Blake addressed the crowd assembled for the walk. Blake served as the top non-commissioned officer for the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, which is headquartered here, from 2008 to 2012, and was instrumental in the effort to build RIA’s 9/11 memorial.
“We’re here today to remember, and to never forget,” Blake said. “These flags symbolize the lives, souls and spirits of those who perished.
“But we’re also here for us,” Blake continued, “as we walk together as a community to recommit ourselves to what they died for. This ceremony is a testament to our commitment to the defense of freedom, and the honor of those who lost their lives on 9/11.”
Blake also served as keynote speaker at the remembrance ceremony, which began at 10:30 a.m. In his remarks, Blake said that he struggled to come up with the right words for his speech.
“I asked myself: What word describes their legacy and their selfless sacrifice which we so humbly honor? I tell you, that word is ‘courage.’ ”
Pointing to the field of American flags behind him, Blake cited the courage of the first responders who climbed into the twin towers to save others, of the people in the Pentagon who led others to safety, of the passengers aboard Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania after they stormed the cabin and prevented another terrorist attack, and of the servicemembers who have fought in the Global War on Terror.
“The members of our Gold Star families simply find the courage to go on every day,” Blake said. “There is also the courage of our servicemembers, civilians and contractors who stepped up over the past 20 years, raised their hands, and said, ‘Send me.’
“All of the courageous acts that I described are symbolized here at this memorial and at this ceremony, for all of us so that we never forget,” Blake said.
Lt. Gen. Antonio “Tony” Aguto Jr., commanding general of First U.S. Army, which also headquartered at RIA, served as host at the ceremony. In his remarks, Aguto stated that he had recently spoken to Leonard and Brenda Luxmore about their son, B.J., and his service.
“The sacrifice of Corporal Luxmore, and of all the men and women who gave their lives in the war on terror, was not in vain,” Aguto said. “He fought for his beliefs, and he fought for those around him, and for all of us.”
A choir of children from All Saints Catholic School sang the national anthem at the ceremony, and concluded the ceremony by singing “America the Beautiful” while inviting the audience to sing along. The ceremony also included a moment of silence, a 21-gun salute, and the playing of taps.
The 9/11 flag walk and ceremony have become annual events at RIA and are expected to continue in 2022, in honor of the 21st anniversary of the terrorist attacks.