MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – --
In one of the most devastating terrorist attacks on American soil, 19 people changed the lives of millions. In an attack coordinated by al-Qaida, 2,993 people lost their lives. The attack not only changed New York’s skyline but America as a whole.
The attacks were meant to kill the American spirit, but just the opposite happened. America was drawn closer together. Flags were flown across the nation to show a united front against a new enemy.
Eight years later, America has not forgotten the planes that crashed into the towers, Pentagon and the plane that crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., nor have they forgotten the brave emergency responders who lost their lives running into a burning building in an attempt to save as many innocent civilians as possible.
To honor all of those who died in the attacks, the Onslow Civil Affairs Committee hosted a ceremony at Lejeune Memorial Gardens beside the 9/11 Memorial.
The memorial is a beam from the World Trade Center that a delegation of the Fire Department New York and the Fire Family Transport Foundation delivered as part of an Independence Day celebration July 3, 2003. The beam was donated to recognize the Marines for their support in the aftermath of the attacks and continued actions in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
Underneath a cloudy sky, the cool morning was an appropriate setting for the somber ceremony. The event began with the 2nd Marine Division Band playing “Proud to be an American” and “America the Beautiful” as people milled about before finding their seats.
Members of the Onslow Civil Affairs Committee stood behind the beam. They were dressed in white shirts and black pants. When they stepped on the stage in groups of four they symbolized civilians who lost their lives in the attacks. Each member of the committee held a photo in front of their face as the narrator read a story about the person who lost their life that day. The presentation was meant to remind the audience that the victims were more than just names. They were real people who were going about their daily lives when tragedy struck.
The first group to be honored was the unsuspecting passengers on the planes that crashed. The youngest victim honored during the ceremony was an 11-year-old girl.
“Asia Cottom had just started the sixth grade at Bertie Backus Middle School in Northeast Washington,” read Ed Williams, a member of the New River Harmony Men’s Barbershop Chorus and narrator for the event. “Asia was eager to learn and pleased to be at the campus where her father worked. Asia had been selected to take a trip to California with a teacher to participate in a National Geographic Society ecology conference. She was on American Airlines Flight 77 on 9/11, which crashed into the Pentagon.”
The next group to be honored was the victims in the World Trade Center. Their stories ranged from a 54-year-old father of three girls to a 26-year-old stock trader.
Then Carol Hurst Long, a committee member took to the stage to read a prayer for these civilian victims.
“The stories we have heard of innocent people who suddenly were victims move us,” she said. “Children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, loved ones. They were passengers in a plane, at work in a building or going about their daily lives.”
Then the final civilian group was honored, those who died within the Pentagon.
After the stories of the Pentagon victims were told the committee members dressed in black and white left the stage.
The air was then filled with the beautiful and introspective sound of violins and other stringed instruments from Jacksonville High School’s Cardinal Chamber Strings.
The music lead up to one of the highlights of the ceremony, the National Moment of Silence. The moment was held all across America at 8:46 a.m., a minute after the first plane crashed.
All heads bowed as the attendees and participants took time to reflect over the stories of the innocent people they had heard earlier and those who have died while protecting America’s freedom on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The moment of silence was broken as three sirens from emergency vehicles went off one after another. Their echoes faded in the distance as the narrator resumed the ceremony.
“These sirens represent the response of brave law enforcement, firefighters and rescue personnel who responded on that day to the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and to the field in Pennsylvania where one of the planes crashed,” read Williams. “Standing before you are members of our community who also willingly risk their lives to save others. They will help share with you the stories of some of the fallen first responders of that fateful day.”
After the first responders were represented, the final group of military representatives took their place on the stage. Although service members did not perish in the terrorist attacks, they were honored for their sacrifices in the War on Terrorism.
The final life honored was that of Army Sgt. Roger L. Adams, Jr. Williams read the story with a special emphasis on Adams’ son Tyler.
“(Tyler) remembered that he had known his final football game (a year ago) would be the last game his father would see him play in because of his deployment,” Williams said. “In that game, he caught the winning touchdown and pointed to his dad in the stands as acknowledgment of the role he had played in his life.”
Williams added Tyler did not know the game his father watched him play this past year was indeed the last game he would ever attend. To honor his father’s sacrifice Tyler’s jersey was placed on the beam.
Then Marine participants from Camp Johnson began to assemble one of the most recognizable symbols of those killed-in-action. Boots, rifle, dog tags and Kevlar were all carefully placed together.
The narrator then began to bring the ceremony to a close as he talked about the strength that came from this tragedy.
“Tragedies have a way of unifying us,” he said. “They help us see that we stand on common ground. Despite the horrific suffering on that day eight years ago, there has come a great outpouring of pride and strength in our country. The pride brought unity, nationalism and spirit. The strength has brought resolve, compassion and action.”