FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, Sept. 11, 2012) -- When the smoke cleared after Sept. 11, 2001, what remained was a national sense of unity and patriotism.

From the first responders to the troops called up for Operation Noble Eagle -- the recovery operation in New York and at the Pentagon -- to the personnel helping with airport security and homeland defense, to those simply waving the flag in support: Americans came together like never before.

We pledged to never forget those who perished at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. We vowed to avenge their wrongful deaths. Recruiting centers filled with those who experienced a new-found sense of patriotism.

Hence the presidential proclamation of Sept. 11 as Patriot's Day.

Eleven years after the rubble has been cleared, Patriot's Day is not a holiday to which many look forward.

In fact, it's a day of mixed emotions.

It's a day that I can't help but think about some of the employees and Soldiers from Army G-1 who perished in the terrorist attack. And I remember the chaos.

I had been called into my supervisor's office to take a look at the events in New York being replayed on television. As we watched a plane hit the second tower, a co-worker remarked: "If they're targeting the World Trade Center, they might hit the Pentagon."

Moments later the walls reverberated with a terrible boom.

It sounded like a bomb had gone off a corridor away. And at first, that's what we thought had happened. We followed fire drill procedures and evacuated the building. Our route took us around the corner of the Pentagon to an assigned rally point near the old helicopter pad.

Far down that side of the building, around the bend, black smoke billowed, but we couldn't really see the gaping hole in the building. I spotted what looked like an aircraft gear lying on the pavement and wondered out loud if a helicopter had crashed into the building. Then a formation of fighter jets flew over and someone yelled "Get down!"

We hit the ground.

Not many of us knew exactly what was happening. Not many -- but a select few at the Pentagon seemed to know instinctively.

Lt. Col. Ted Anderson ran past our group toward the billowing smoke. We learned later that he ran into the burning building and helped two of the injured out. Then he re-entered the smoke-filled Pentagon through a broken window to drag out two more injured employees, one whose clothes were on fire. He tried to go back a third time, but the flames were too intense and an Arlington firefighter held him back.

There were many volunteers that day who helped the injured and searched the rubble for survivors.

One of them was a cook named Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Braman. He too ran toward the spot where the plane hit the building. He searched through smoke to pull out those injured. A woman he rescued, Sheila Moody, had only begun working at the Pentagon the day before. It was her second day on the job in the accounting branch of Washington Headquarters Services.

Braman searched through the burning building all day and into the night. In fact, he spent three days as NCOIC of the recovery team without ever going home for rest. He carried out the remains of many who didn't make it.

In the past 11 years, Braman has shared his memories of 9/11 with audiences at more than 160 events nationwide -- from high schools to national conventions.

It's his hope that no one ever forgets 9/11.

It's my hope that as the years pass, no one ever forgets the bravery of true heroes like Braman and Anderson.

And more importantly, it's my fervent hope that the patriotism kindled in the flames of that September day somehow stays burning bright -- for all of us.