FORT POLK, La. – The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk honored the heroes and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks during a ceremony held Sept. 9 in the installation’s Main Fire Station.
The day’s events began when the chapel bells on the Fort Polk Main Post Chapel rang out at 7:46 a.m. to symbolize the attack on One World Trade Center (the north tower) in New York City that fateful morning. One thousand, five hundred, twenty-one people lost their lives in that attack.
The chapel bells tolled again at 8:03 a.m. symbolizing the attack on the south tower that claimed another 659 lives.
At 8:37 a.m., the bells chimed once more honoring the 184 lives lost in the attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Narrator 1st Lt. Nina C. Flores, 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment, then reminded those in attendance at the current time (9:03 a.m. local) 21 years ago, 40 passengers and crew members took fate into their own hands in the skies over Pennsylvania, and with a cry of “Let’s roll,” foiled a fourth attack on the nation by beating back hijackers and forcing United Airlines Flight 93 to crash in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Guests were asked to stand for a moment of silence as Fort Polk firefighter Longae Bell rang the bell once more in honor of those brave Americans who perished on Flight 93.
Following an invocation by Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Michael Jeffries and the playing of the National Anthem by a joint band from Pickering and Rosepine high schools, Brig. Gen. David W. Gardner, JRTC and Fort Polk commanding general, took the podium. Gardner said on that September morning in 2001, America was forever changed.
“Today, we remember those who lost their lives,” Gardner said. “We pause to honor their memories, and we take time from our busy day to pay tribute to the patriots who sacrificed in defense of freedom, as well as their Families.”
Gardner said he, like most Americans, could remember exactly where he was when the tragedy unfolded — glued to a black and white TV set with his first sergeant after completing a day of patrols in Kosovo, while his Family was in New York City with his in-laws, 5 miles from ground zero.
Gardner spoke of gradually realizing the horror of the day, the stories of loss and survival, and the fear that other attacks might be planned. “I personally still feel a jolt of pain when seeing the twin towers in old movies and photos, or even more, by not seeing them,” Gardner said.
But Gardner said he also remembers the unity after the devastation; the kindred spirit of Americans that he remembered from the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration and the 1986 Centennial of the Statue of Liberty.
Gardner said America cannot forget the true heroes of this generation’s day of infamy —those who risked themselves to help their fellow man, especially the few who understood the significance of what they were made an unwilling party to, and said, “Let’s roll!”
Gardner also mentioned those everyday heroes — firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics — who raced into suffocating smoke and rubble in the hopes of saving others. At ground zero, the world witnessed the miracle of American courage and sacrifice as ash rained down on those first responders who ran into the fires of hell.
“On that day, more than 400 first responders lost their lives, and even now, many still suffer long-term physical effects,” Gardner said. “Today we honor their extraordinary sacrifice.”
Gardner said the ceremony also honors local first responders, who place themselves in danger to provide a safe environment for Soldiers, civilians, retirees and Families. He said the events of Sept. 11, 2001, inspired many to dedicate their lives to public service.
Gardner asked those in attendance to reflect on one of the verses of “America the Beautiful” as they remember the heroes of 9/11.
“Oh, beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.”
Following his speech, Gardner joined JRTC and Fort Polk Command Sgt. Maj. David P. Hanson, Fort Polk Fire Chief Craig D. Wilgus and Fort Polk Audie Murphy Club member Staff Sgt. Troy R. Walters in placing a wreath in remembrance of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and their Family members.
The wreath also served to honor the brave men and women of the Armed Forces who have paid the ultimate price during overseas contingency operations.
Once the wreath was placed, the ceremony concluded with the playing of “Taps” by the joint band.
The bands also provided pre- and post-ceremony music.