At 9/11 ceremony in Germany, Army colonel remembers the day 'the hometown was struck'

Col. Douglas Levien, 21st Theater Sustainment Command deputy commander, left, and Command Sgt. Maj. Sean Howard place a wreath during 9/11 remembrance ceremony hosted by the 21st TSC in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Sept. 11, 2020.


By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 11, 2020

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Army Col. Douglas Levien still gets emotional when talking about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, recalling a day when the Brooklyn native lost five close friends in the World Trade Center and 10 high school classmates.

“It’s a very personal day, not only a personal day if you’re an American, but even more so if you’re a New Yorker because the hometown was struck,” he said, his voice quavering. “This day brings back a lot of memories.”

Levien spoke Friday at the 21st Theater Sustainment Command’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony, held on the Panzer parade field under a clear blue sky, much like the one over New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

The 2,977 people who died in the attacks, most of them Americans, were honored with a 21-gun salute and 19 seconds of silence — one for each year since two planes crashed into the twin towers in New York, one into the Pentagon in Virginia, and a fourth in a field in Pennsylvania, brought down when passengers fought the hijackers.

Levien, now the 21st TSC deputy commanding officer, wasn’t near home that day. He was a young Army captain stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, eating breakfast at the chow hall when first one plane, then a second, crashed into the World Trade Center.

“When the second building hit, we knew it was a terrorist attack,” he said, in an interview after the ceremony. He remembers losing his appetite but forcing himself to eat, “knowing it’s going to be a long day.

“And it was a very long day for many of us and lots of long days to follow.”

Levien’s remarks highlighted some of the many heroes from 9/11, including first responders who were “running up the stairs … with over 45 pounds of bunker gear while their fellow citizens were coming down and jumping out of buildings.”

He spoke of the solidarity shown in the aftermath of the attacks by U.S. allies such as Germany, who stood alongside U.S. soldiers to help guard the gates at U.S. bases. Nineteen years ago, “our posts had no check points,” Levien said.

“It’s great that we’re doing this here today,” he said after the ceremony, noting that everyone in uniform at the event had ties to 9/11. Some joined the Army after the attacks, others continued to serve and many deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the world.

As the years tick by, Levien said it was important to honor the anniversary of 9/11, not only to make sure it doesn’t happen again but also to tap into the same resiliency so many people displayed in the days that followed the attacks.

“We’re dealing with a pandemic, we’re dealing with lots of racial inequality and unrest at the home front,” he said. “But life goes on … soldiering goes on. We have to continue to get up and move forward.”

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Soldiers salute during the playing of the German and American national anthems at the 9/11 remembrance ceremony at Panzer Kaserne in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Sept. 11, 2020.