VICENZA, Italy -- Soldiers and civilians of the American and Italian community gathered at the Chiesa dei Servi in downtown Vicenza not only to pay respects and honor the lives lost during Sept. 11, but to make sure this tragic event will never be forgotten.
Anyone who was old enough to witness and understand this terrorist attack can easily remember what they felt when they saw the Twin Towers collapse. Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue, commander, U.S. Army Africa, recalls the feelings he had on that fateful day.
"I remember feeling frustrated on that day because I was a Soldier responsible for defending my country, but had no idea of how to do so. I couldn't respond because I had no idea who attacked us or why. I distinctly remember looking at the empty skies and the quiet streets as most traffic in the U.S. stopped because we did not know if another mode of conveyance would serve as the next suicide bomb," Donahue said.
Mayor of Vicenza Achille Variati said Sept. 11 became a great planetary symbol that will withstand the test of time. Variati, like most people today, can remember every detail of the attacks like they were yesterday.
"We all have in our eyes, even today, after so many years, the vision of the Twin Towers on that clear September morning: the image of one of the towers in flames. The second plane approaching. The crash. The explosion. The second tower burning. The smoke. The sirens. The panic. The cries. The collapse of the towers," Variati said.
To further stress the powerful symbol the terrorist attacks have become, Variati said Sept. 11 transformed itself from a symbol of fear and pain to hope.
"We felt the fear because if such a proud symbol of the West could be hit, then we were all more vulnerable. Then,we felt the pain because that symbol, the landscape of New York, was part of our imagination, it had found a place in our hearts, and now under the ruins and ashes of those two towers so familiar even to those who had never been in the United States were the bodies of people, hundreds and thousands. In the images and stories of heroism of the rescuers, then in the dignified composure of the commemorations of the disaster and the dead, then in the project of building a new skyscraper to take the place of the demolished towers, Sept. 11 has become a symbol of strength," Variati said.
During the ceremony, Donahue stressed the importance to never forget the losses suffered and the sacrifices made to the young people who only know the attacks as an event read in history books.
"By having commemorations like the one we are having today, our young children can learn from us about what we saw, heard and felt. Like today's students, most of our young paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team are 21 or younger, making them only 10 years old at the time of the attack. These young American Soldiers heard a fainter and more sublime call to serve their nation in a time of war," Donahue said.
Sgt. Jah Ruiz, a 173rd Soldier who attended the ceremony, said he was in the 7th grade when Sept. 11 occurred. Ruiz said he felt honored to attend the ceremony in Vicenza.
"It made me very proud to be a part of the ceremony. It's not very often where we get a chance to stop and look back and remember all the people that were lost in this event. It feels good to stop and think about them, that they are still in our thoughts," Ruiz said.
Variati said Vicenza will continue to host commemoration ceremonies for Sept. 11 because it brings together the American and Italian communities.
"We wanted it because Vicenza has been hosting for decades an American presence that is one the most important ones in Europe. It is a presence, as we know, that is going to increase soon," Variati said.
Donahue said while people soberly reflect on Sept. 11, the American and Italian nations have grown closer because of the mutual support extended to each other.
"Over the past decade we have been engaged in conflict around the world. Italians and Americans still fight together in Afghanistan to protect the Afghan people and to keep that country from once again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists to plan attacks against innocents. As allies and friends, we must continue to sustain our relationship and maintain the hope that comes from knowing, that through partnership, we can overcome any adversity," Donahue said.