MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Some of us were already serving our country in the armed forces, stationed aboard various installations around the world. Some others were already of age to join the military, but chose instead to venture out and explore other career opportunities. Another portion of us were still in our teenage years, worrying only about school and ourselves. Yet something happened which shook the very foundations of this country, affecting everyone, regardless of occupation and age, in a way that would stay with us for a lifetime.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2011, four commercial airliners, American Airlines Flights 11 and 77 and United Airlines Flights 175 and 93, were en route to San Francisco and Los Angeles. At 8:46 a.m., Flight 11 struck the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York, with Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower 17 minutes later. At 9:37 a.m., Flight 77 struck the western side of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and three minutes after 10:00 a.m., Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Penn., falling short of its Washington, D.C. target after passengers fought to regain control of the plane.
These terrorist attacks against the United States were committed by the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, heralding in a new, dark era of American history and the longest war this country has seen to date.
Ten years later, the vivid memories and images of that infamous day have not tarnished in the minds of Americans. For the greater Onslow County area, civilians and military members from the surrounding Marine Corps installations came together on this decade anniversary to solemnly remember that day in 2001 at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens for Patriot Day 2011, observing the anniversary at the 9/11 Memorial Beam.
“It changed America very significantly and the brutality of the attack gravely jolted the people’s view of the world,” said Col. Daniel J. Lecce, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. “Much like the attack on Pearl Harbor, it also bolstered the sense of patriotism and the need to act, but greater due to the fact they were civilian targets.”
Much akin to the response of the civilian and military personnel following the Imperial Japanese Navy’s attack on Naval Base Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the influx of civilians joining the armed forces to take part in the fight was mirrored in the months following the attack in 2001. For many, the choice to enlist or re-enlist was an easy one to make, and for those not yet of age, their hearts were set on the future.
“I was five years old when it happened,” said Bradlee Corey, a military dependent and staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Air Station New River Young Marines. “I can’t remember a pre-9/11 world. Me and everyone else of my age grew up under its influence. But although we weren’t old enough to understand what was going on at the time, we have still learned the importance and the impact of the event and are just as affected as everyone else.”
Civilians and military members from across the country came together in front of the ominous “I-beam” that sits amidst the surrounding memorials, taken from the wreckage of the twin towers and transported to LMG following the attack. The event promptly started at 8:15 a.m. where three groups of three solemn individuals held photographs and names of various victims who lost their lives in the attacks.
“At the age of 69, Touri (Bolourchi) found the courage to step on an airplane so she could visit with Roya (her daughter) and her grandsons in Boston,” read the narrator, speaking in conjunction as a member of the ceremony, donned in black and white, as the narrator held a picture of Touri in front of her face. “On Sept. 11, she boarded United Airlines Flight 175 for the trip home. Touri waved to her daughter and said, ‘I’ll see you at Christmas time.’ Then she turned and walked away.”
Eight more times this was repeated, where the photos and names of victims who were on the planes, at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, were shown as their stories were read to the audience. Whether or not those in the audience had a personal tie to the attacks, it did not matter. The remorse and pain in their eyes and expressions told volumes of what they were feeling, reflecting back to that day a decade ago.
“Give me any other day and I wouldn’t be able to tell you what I was doing 10 years ago,” said Cindy Thomas, a military spouse in attendance. “But I remember exactly what I was doing 10 years ago today, and I feel the same way as I did then when I saw the planes hit the towers on television.”
Age, gender, race, political preference – all these factors that make each American citizen an individual didn’t matter 10 years ago. The country wept as a whole when nearly 3,000 people perished, and the nation rallied together as one to find those responsible and avenge those deaths.
“It changed everything, our daily lives, how we viewed each other,” said Richard Severance, a firefighter with the Wilmington Fire Department in Wilmington, Del. “Anywhere you go and anyone you talk to, it’s still on their minds. They aren’t going to forget.”
Following the memorial readings at the Memorial Beam, the New York City Fire Department Bell, which hangs on a small trailer over bronze plaques with the names of the fire fighters who lost their lives while responding to the World Trade Center attack, loudly sounded, reverberating across the gardens. After the bell fell silent, the cavalcade of police cars and fire trucks sounded off, their sirens and horns screaming across town to remind everyone of the decade-old aggression.
Later in the day at 12:00 p.m., the NYFD Bell was tolled once again, this time by the Franciscan Order of Monks to once again memorialize those who perished on that day as well as to those who have lost their lives since then in the War on Terror.
At 2:00 p.m. Northside High School hosted the 10th Anniversary 9/11 Community Commemoration, which symbolized the spontaneous gathering of the community 10 years ago to morn as a group.
“It’s a complete tragedy, nothing less,” said Corey. “But it’s our job to make sure no one forgets and to teach the following generation the importance of 9/11.”
While military combat operations grind on overseas and rebuilding continues in New York, the events that took place 10 years ago have not been lost in the minds of the American people, and shall not for many more decades to come. Although it should not take a tragedy of such proportions to bring a nation together under one common banner, the country seldom has fewer events where its people, no matter their separate thoughts and opinions, sought refuge in the arms of one another and ensured that infamous day shall never be forgotten.