If you happened to be on Fort Polk at 7:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, you might have heard the bells of the Main Post Chapel ringing, a memorial to the 1,521 people who lost their lives when a civilian airliner crashed into the New York’s North Trade Center tower in 2001. They chimed again at 8:03 a.m. and at 8:37 a.m., the times a second air plane ploughed into the South Trade Center killing 659 people and a third aircraft flew into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., taking the lives of 184 more.
To honor those who lost their lives in the attacks and have waged the war on terror since that day, a 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony was held at 9 a.m. Sept. 11 in the Main Post Chapel. At 9:03 a.m., the bells rang yet again, remembering the passengers and crewmembers of United Airlines Flight 93 who attempted to wrest control of their jet from hijackers and plummeted nose first into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, costing another 40 lives.
Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Suri, commandant, Fort Polk NCO Academy, was the event’s keynote speaker. He spoke of how the phrase “nine-eleven” triggers memories of where a person was and what they were doing on that morning, even after 14 years.
“There is certainly no question that on September 11, 2001, the world we knew had changed forever,” he said.
Suri said he was stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, at the time, and remembered hearing about the events as he drove to work.
“The news announcers were erratic as they talked about all commercial flights being suspended throughout the entire country,” he said. “People could no longer enter government buildings. It was as though the world had stopped moving.”
While Americans remember what a tragic and unjust day that was, what Suri also remembered was incredible heroism and honor Americans displayed as they came together to make a terrible situation bearable.
“We saw ordinary people choose duty in the face of death as the security guards in the Trade Center continued to help people out even as the buildings were collapsing around them,” he said. “We saw loyalty to friends overwhelm all sense of danger as the New York City firefighters searched tirelessly for their own.
“We saw ordinary people choose self-sacrifice for the good of strangers.”
Suri said that if there was one thing the nation’s enemy proved that day, it was the citizens of the United States are the most honorable, heroic people on the face of the earth who will always come together when it counts.
“So, today we remember and celebrate what we learned about ourselves on that day,” he said. “We remember and celebrate how we acted that day, how ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives, reacted with extraordinary heroism and honor.”
Suri said the United States would most likely always have enemies in the world that would seek to destroy it.
“But we will also always have duty, loyalty, self-sacrifice and love that will flourish in the hearts of the ordinary people we live and work with every day.
“On September 11, 2001, there were no differences between our country’s citizens – we were all the same,” he said. “We were all Soldiers feeling the effects of this battlefield together. We were all patriots that day.”
Suri closed by performing the Toby Keith song, “American Soldier,” with a rhythm section from the Army band at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
“I offer this as a final tribute to the heroic firefighters, police officers, the ordinary people performing heroic duties that day,” he said. “To all of the military men and women, some of whom are sitting here today and have lived the burden of war since that fateful day, and to all those who still live with the loss of loved ones, we dedicate this song.”
Following the song, 1st Sgt. Rodmond Churchill and Staff Sgt. Richard Hendricks placed a memorial wreath at the front of the chapel as 2nd Lt. Jordan Bailey sounded taps. The three Soldiers are members of the Fort Polk Chapter of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.
Brig. Gen. Timothy McGuire, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, said ceremonies like the one remembering the events of Sept. 11, 2001, are important.
“It’s the reason why we exist – to protect the American nation – so we can never forget the sacrifices that were made on that day, and during the past 14 years to keep us free,” McGuire said.
McGuire also said this particular ceremony showed the power of the Army’s noncommissioned officer corps.
“The talent we have in our ranks with Soldiers like Command Sergeant Major Suri, who gave powerful remarks and a moving tribute to the American Soldier, sums up what makes our Army and its Noncommissioned Officer Corps so special,” he said.