"Last Monday morning, the nation woke to the news of the death of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and the nation's most wanted criminal who met the same fate that he imposed on more than 3,000 citizens," said Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, during a ceremony at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C., May 9.
"Last Sunday's actions are a striking example of American commitment; that same commitment that brings us here today, to dedicate a small, humble piece of stone, that in another time and another place will seem trivial and inconsequential," Horst continued.
A stone from the Pentagon's impact site was dedicated to members of the Military District of Washington, to include the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), who assisted with recovery operations following the attacks.
Sgt. Nicholas Pata, currently in The Old Guard, Caisson Platoon, was a volunteer firefighter in Rockland County, N.Y. during the attacks on the World Trade Center.
"I feel a bit of closure but not fully," said Pata, who currently volunteers for Prince George's County, Md., fire department. "That was the catalyst that gave me the push to join the military and for the people I knew from those events."
While Pata responded to the tragic events that took place at the World Trade Center, Soldiers in The Old Guard at Fort Myer, Va. responded to the attacks at the Pentagon.
Among The Old Guard responders was Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Coombs, who remembers walking out of his company building to see jet black smoke billowing up in the sky.
"Weapons were issued and we manned all of the walls of Fort Myer and the cemetery," said Coombs.
Sgt. 1st Class William Cramer was preparing his uniform while watching breaking news of the Pentagon on fire from the television.
"There was silence in the dayroom; you could hear a pin drop," said Cramer. "We were the 'ready' company for the Regiment that day so we immediately dressed into our Battle Dress Uniforms and were the first to arrive on scene from The Old Guard."
During the first few days, Old Guard Soldiers performed search and rescue operations to find survivors and assisted local fire and rescue authorities to find and recover remains.
"A big chunk of my innocence was lost that day," said Cramer.
"We were never trained for an event like this but we were actively engaged in it," said Sgt. 1st Class John Diggles, who was conducting funerals in Arlington National Cemetery when he heard the loud explosion.
In the following weeks, Soldiers wearing respirators, protective suits, rubber boots and gloves, helped sort through the debris so that the Federal Bureau Investigation agents could locate evidence and local search and rescue workers could locate remains.
"It was an 'out of body' experience that I was just waiting to wake up from," said Coombs.
In keeping with the Old Guard's tradition of honoring our fallen in Arlington National Cemetery, each victim received appropriate honors after being removed from the Pentagon area.
The stone from the Pentagon impact site finally found an appropriate resting place at Fort McNair. It will serve as a tribute to the 184 people perished and to those who assisted in the rescue and recovery efforts at the Pentagon and for the lives lost in Shanksville, Pa. and the World Trade Center in New York.
"September 11th was one of the darkest days for America but it was also the day that we rediscovered our compassion for goodwill, courage, resiliency and commitment. Firefighters, first-responders, law enforcement officers and Soldiers responded to an unimaginable scene with courage and a sense of selfless duty," said Horst.
The Old Guard continues to stand ready to defend and provide security for the National Capital Region in time of national emergency.