Military marks 9/11 anniversary, sacrifice
DARMSTADT, Germany — They spoke in different places, against different backdrops and under different circumstances, but there was much in common among their thoughts and words.
“We pause to remember the day that changed our lives forever,” said Army Maj. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, commander of the Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy.
In the African nation of Djibouti, Nita Fay Holliday, a senior noncommissioned officer in the Navy, spoke of never forgetting “the events of that day and the lives that were lost.”
And in Darmstadt, Germany, the commander of an intelligence battalion used words like “horror” and phrases such as “evil, despicable acts of terror.”
“It is important that we maintain patience, and focus on that goal of eliminating terrorism,” said Lt. Col. Ivory Freeman of the 105th Military Intelligence Battalion.
Across Europe, the Horn of Africa and southwest Asia, in simple yet dignified ways, U.S. servicemembers and civilians Tuesday marked the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.
With the nation at war, the comments were both heartfelt and resolute. Take, for instance, the words of Capt. Floyd Hehe, commander of the Naval Support Activity Naples.
“Let us remember those who died on that horrible day,” Hehe said after a wreath-laying ceremony. “Let us remember the heroes that have given their lives since then fighting the war against terror. And let us always remember our part in making sure that our enemies never get the chance to do that again.”
There was great eloquence, too.
“Normal has a new meaning,” Helmick said at the Vicenza ceremony. “Normal is not normal. Now it is: barriers, security checks, terrorist alerts, force protection conditions, homeland security (and) border control.”
Two wives and a mother of soldiers killed in Afghanistan also were on hand at the Vicenza remembrance. They helped dedicate and light a torch that will burn 24 hours a day in tribute to soldiers killed in action and to deployed SETAF personnel.
In most cases, wreathes were laid and words of reflection and inspiration were imparted by a chaplain or commander. Honor guards were present and at some bases, such as Wiesbaden Army Airfield in Germany, where a bugler played taps. Spc. Nathan Egts of the 1st Armored Division band performed an especially moving rendition.
To the north, in England, roughly 200 people attended a ceremony at RAF Mildenhall. It was held at the air base’s 9/11 memorial park, a place adorned with a plaque and two evergreen shrubs in the shape of the twin towers in New York City.
Chaplain (Capt.) Jason Peters of the 352nd Special Operations Group addressed the crowd, sharing some of his own experiences on that fateful day. At the time, Peters was assigned to Bolling Air Force Base, not far from the Pentagon, which also was hit. He made his way to the Pentagon soon after the attack.
“It was surrealistic,” Peters said after the ceremony. “I thought that this couldn’t be happening. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Tuesday was a day for people to recall where they were and what they were doing at the time of the attacks. Freeman, from Darmstadt, happened to be at home with his family. Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, the commander of the 1st Armored Division, part of which is leaving for Iraq this month, recalls driving by Lower Manhattan on his way back to Washington, D.C., catching glimpses of the emergency lights emanating from where the towers once stood.
“It was the start of the war we are fighting today,” Hertling said.
Grown-ups weren’t the only ones marking the occasion.
At Bamberg Elementary School, remembering 9/11 was an all-morning affair. About 600 students filled the school gymnasium. Kids were decked out in red, white and blue, and sang patriotic songs. Afterwards, each grade planted a tree across the street from the school. A few second-graders were asked about the significance of the event.
“So we can water it and watch it grow,” said one student, not understanding the larger question.
“So we can have air,” another replied.
“For the people who died,” a third chimed in.
“For all the people who get hurt,” added a classmate.
In so many ways, it all was about trying to make sense of one senseless day.
Mark St.Clair, Sean Kimmons, Lisa Novak, Michael Abrams and John Vandiver contributed to this story.