Fort Stewart soldiers and unit commanders, family members and leaders of the surrounding community attended a 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on Thursday at the Main Post Chapel.
Retired Army Chaplain Col. Mike Hoyt served as guest speaker for the solemn event that included special music by the 3rd Infantry Division Woodwind Quintet. As guests entered the sanctuary, they were met by several large color posters filled with horrific images of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A few had images of 3rd ID soldiers who later responded to those attacks.
One poster showed a giant ball of flame as the second Twin Tower was hit by a passenger plane being used as a missile by terrorists. The poster next to it showed a little girl clinging to her father, who’d just returned from Afghanistan. Two other posters listed the fatalities and statistics about the attacks in New York, on the Pentagon and the plane that crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“Today, we Americans are united in purpose,” Senior Chaplain Col. Gary Hensley said as he welcomed the small congregation lightly filling the huge sanctuary. “We’re here to identify with the victims of 9/11, to share the grief of their families and loved ones. We will all remember the heroes … and we remain committed to fighting against the forces of evil for as long as it takes.”
Following a video presentation that depicted the events of 9/11 and the days that followed, Hensley introduced Hoyt. According to his biography provided by the chapel staff, Hoyt retired in January 2011 after 35 years in the Army, in which he served in three commissioned-officer branches — armor, military intelligence and chaplain. The Ranger-qualified chaplain with an air-assault badge and master-parachutist wings is the founder and still-serving member of the board of directors for the Wounded in Action Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps severely wounded servicemen and their families.
Hoyt began by picking up on Henley’s comments about fighting evil.
“We come here today to this ceremony to do something about (evil),” Hoyt said. “We’re not gathered to open old wounds.”
Throughout his remarks, Hoyt quoted American leaders going back to the country’s beginnings. He started with a quote attributed to French philosopher Alexis De Tocqueville: “America is great because America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Hoyt then asked two rhetorical questions, “What is good? And is America still good?”
He said yes to the second question and attempted to respond to the first. Hoyt said America’s beginning was unique to all other nations past and present in that America was founded on ideas, rather than the resort of conquest. He paraphrased the Declaration of Independence, which says all men are created equal with the unalienable, or God-given, right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
He said America’s founding documents is its public conscience and basis of its goodness. That is based on the single principle of freedom of religion. Hoyt then noted that 75 percent of the world’s population lives under some form of religious restriction, and that religious freedom here is was why so many hate and target this country for terror attacks.
However, he said, within the human spirit there is an accountability to each other because of our accountability to God, which was not only part of America’s goodness, but also a responsibility to lead the rest of the world.
Hoyt said it is important to always remember what happened on 9/11, while admitting many people have become complacent and too preoccupied with their own lives to remember what happened that day — and may happen again.
Hoyt said on that day, he was leading his chaplains with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, on a 4-mile run. When they came inside after the run, they learned about the attacks.
Across the country in San Jose, Calif., Dominique Saldala was an 8-year-old trying to understand what was upsetting her father, a soldier.
“I was in elementary school,” said the now-Sgt. Saldala. “I really didn’t understand it at the time, but after knowing the impact of it afterwards with us moving and my dad having to deploy, I understood. It had an impact on me and being that my dad was defending my country, I wanted to defend my country too.”