Soldiers, military retirees, first responders, Department of Defense civilians and military family members gathered Wednesday morning at Fort Stewart’s main post chapel to remember the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Special guests for the memorial ceremony included Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, and his wife, Jane; 3rd ID Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson and his wife, Sharon, and Brig. Gen. John Hort, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-maneuver.
A soft prelude provided by the 3rd ID brass quintet was accompanied by images on two large screens of the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the aircraft wreckage in a field near Shanksville, Pa. There also were images of the faces of victims of the attack and those who later gave their lives when the country went after the terrorists responsible.
The memorial service began with a welcome by Lt. Col. Gary Dale, a chaplain, who said the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were worse than the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor near Oahu, Hawaii. Despite the death and destruction caused by the attack, Dale said the attacks of 9/11 brought the country together. He said the sacrifices of the victims and first responders during the attacks and the servicemen and women who’ve since given their all to restore security always should be remembered.
Dale’s comments were followed by a video in which soldiers and military family members talked about what they were doing on the day of the attacks. Again, the images of the attack and the faces of its victims stirred the hearts of those attending the ceremony.
Col. Gary Hensley, the installation’s new senior chaplain, focused his message on the rebuilding that began that day of the attacks and continues even now. He took his message from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, who led the people of Judah in restoring the walls of Jerusalem in the fifth century B.C.
“The (events) of 9/11 remind us of the hatred that can reside in the hearts of men,” Hensley said. “(These were) attacks on our freedom and our way of life.”
He further defined that way of life as including the right to worship freely and express our faith. He said it was not our majestic mountains or rivers the terrorists were attacking; it was our freedoms. He then explained how walls in Nehemiah’s day offered protection from the outside world and gave the people a sense of security. He said it was important that Nehemiah led his people to rebuild the walls, just as it is important that Americans continue to rebuild and restore the security many took for granted prior to the attacks.
Hensley said he was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va. near Washington, D.C., on the day of the attacks. His mission as an Army chaplain was “to attempt to console the inconsolable and explain the unexplainable.”
“I think that post-9/11 observances are important to remember our fallen and to resolve to continue our fight against terrorism,” Hensley said. “I think that people come out of (memorials like this) with a remembrance of our past but also hope for our future.”
Steven Bradley, a fireman with the Stewart-Hunter fire department, recalls the events of 9/11 as part of what motivated him to become a first responder. It helped, too, that he’s a second-generation firefighter. He said that as time goes on, some people tend to forget, and that troubles him.
“I just didn’t believe it was happening,” Bradley said. “We had a lot of fallen firefighters... We lost a lot of our brothers and sisters who were trying to save lives... (These ceremonies) let us know we still have support from the community. People need to always remember.”
Stewart-Hunter Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Gregory agreed that it is important for the community to remember the attacks. Gregory said he was attending the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on the day of the attacks. He said he completed his class then went onto Fort Sill, Okla. Seven months later, he deployed to Iraq as the executive officer of a field artillery battalion.
Gregory said many of the soldiers currently serving at Fort Stewart were only 12 or 13 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks, he said, awakened a sense of duty in them to one day serve and protect their country from future attacks.