FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- In observance of an event that changed the lives of Americans forever, more than 300 community leaders and spectators met at Fort Bragg's main post flagpole to remember events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"I will begin today by humbly offering my prayers for the peaceful repose of those who died violently on American soil, September 11, 2001," said Gen. Dan K. McNeill, guest speaker and retired former XVIII Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division commanding general, as he addressed the spectators. "And for the solace and comfort of the Families and friends who survived on that otherwise peaceful Monday."

McNeill also recall when, as a 13 year old, he listened as J.J. Armstrong, the manager of a local A&P;supermarket in Warsaw, N.C., described his experiences when Schofield Barracks, Hawaii were attacked during the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

McNeill said he remembered the undertone of helplessness in Armstrong's voice as he described the events of that day because he experienced it again in 2001.

"On the morning of 9/11, I was on a brand new C-130J (transport aircraft), circling Sicily Drop Zone, waiting for the fog to clear and the fresh breeze to become a little less fresh," McNeill said. "On the next to the last pass, the civilian crew chief took a step across the isle and yells in my ear, 'the flight deck wants you to know that an airplane has flown into one of the World Trade towers.'"

McNeill said the statement did not register with him and he continued observing the drop zone.
He said just a few months before that day, he had given a speech and was asked by a member of a large audience, if terrorists would attack America.

"My response was similar to what many senior Army officers uttered in those days: 'it's not a question of will the U.S. be attacked, the questions are when, where and how,'" McNeill said.

He said jump conditions improved and within minutes, they were on the ground at Sicily Drop Zone. McNeill said a few minutes later, the drop zone safety officer told him, "Sir, corps headquarters wants you to know that an airplane has flown into the World Trade tower."

"I said, 'I know, I got it in the airplane.' He said, 'no sir, another one has flown into the other world trade tower.'"

McNeill said by the time he arrived at the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters, he was able to see a news replay of the second airliner flying into the second tower. Seconds later, he was informed that there were also reports of an airplane flying into the Pentagon.

"It would be days before I knew with certainty that my friend, Lieutenant General Tim Maude perished in that heinous act," McNeill recalled. "It was not on September 11, but in the early hours of September 12, about 2 or 3 a.m., when I finally laid down for a little sleep, that I began to understand the unspoken helplessness in Mr. Armstrong's voice many years before."

McNeill also spoke of Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, XVIII Airborne Corps commanding general, who is currently leading the corps during its deployment in Iraq.

"My prayers not only go out to the dead on this day, those that we remember, but they go out to Frank Helmick, they go out to (Lieutenant Generals) Joe Votel, John Mulholland and Jim Huggins," he said. "All back and forth, into a combat zone. All representing Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who now have more accumulative time in combat than their grandfathers and fathers of the greatest generation."

Following McNeill's comments, Huggins, commanding general of the 82nd Abn. Div., along with Calvin Prouty, Fort Bragg deputy provost marshal; Steven Blackburn, fire chief, Sgt. 1st Class Shawndell A. Rouse, 82nd Abn. Div. and Air Force Master Sgt. George Morris, 2nd Airlift Squadron at Pope Field laid a wreath near Fort Bragg's eternal flame in remembrance of the fallen as taps was played and a 21-gun salute rendered.

The men represented the first responders, who lost their lives during the Sept. 11, 2001 attack and the Fort Bragg community.