Service members from different branches and different countries gathered together on Camp Leatherneck by the flag pole. The low sun cast long shadows across the somber faces as the attendants came to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
A bell was rung to signal a moment of silence to remember the men and women who lost their lives that day 11 years ago.
Sergeant Vincent Laughlin, a motor transport operator with I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward), remembered hearing about the events while attending Willingboro High School in New Jersey.
“They showed what happened after the first plane hit the tower on the news,” said Laughlin. “They started evacuating the school, and I went back home to my house, where my mom sat me down.”
Laughlin was born in Manhattan and moved with his mother to New Jersey when he was 11. He returned every summer to the Bronx. He still recalls watching the city he was raised for the first half of his childhood burning on television.
“The thoughts running through my mind was about all the people,” said Laughlin. “I was hoping that everyone was OK,”
The memorial ceremony on Camp Leatherneck echoed Laughlin’s sentiment.
“The ceremony gave people time to reflect on what happened,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ruben Rivera, the company first sergeant with Headquarters Company, I MHG (Fwd), and the ceremony coordinator. “I hope they took that moment and thought about all the lives that were lost.”
The ceremony started with the raising of the flag to half-staff. Service members from different branches and countries saluted the Stars and Stripes before the flag detail marched off.
“Watching the flag go up during the national anthem gives me a sense of pride,” said Rivera, from New Britain, Conn. “It makes me realize that I’m willing to put my life on the line for everything that flag stands for. Hearing the national anthem, watching the flag raised is a sense of freedom for me.”
Laughlin, now thousands of miles from New York, proudly participated in the ceremony as part of the flag detail.
The ceremony included a reading of “The Eleventh of September,” by Roger J. Robicheau, a narration of the events, Sept. 11, 2001, and a rendition of “God Bless America.”
Lance Cpl. Martin Perry, a unit movement control center clerk with I MHG (Fwd), found the ceremony as a sobering reminder. Perry, from Council Bluffs, Iowa, was 10 years old when terrorists attacked New York and Washington, D.C.
“The ceremony really got to me,” said Perry. “I was a little kid when this happened, so I wasn’t really aware what was going on. Hearing the events in order really gave me a better perspective of what happened.”
It was a morning of somber remembrance to honor the thousands of people who lost their lives that day.
When Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, commanding general, Regional Command Southwest, took the microphone, his message spoke not only about the tragedy that occurred, but also about hope and a better tomorrow.
“The history of 11 years ago is tragic,” Maj. Gen. Gurganus said. “The opportunity for a better and safer future is bright.”
Major Gen. Gurganus credited not only U.S. forces, but also the coalition forces as a whole. He mentioned how forces from different countries stood with U.S. service members from the opening rounds and will still be standing there when the final round is fired. He added how coalition forces grew from a handful of countries to 51, and how young men and women still answer the call of their nations.
“It’s brighter because of you and all who stand beside you and who have gone before you,” Maj. Gen. Gurganus said. “It’s brighter because of the brave men and women of Afghanistan who have answered the call to serve their nation to protect their own people.”
On this day of tragedy, the general focused on the positive in his speech and the strong partnership with the people of Afghanistan as they take the lead.
“I ask you to reflect on the events of 11 years ago, and to remember those innocent citizens who lost their lives in the attacks we have heard described here today,” Maj. Gen. Gurganus said in closing. “I also ask that you reflect on the honor, courage, and commitment of every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and civilian from every nation who served in Afghanistan to secure the future, especially those who selflessly laid their lives down for the cause of peace and freedom.”
After the ceremony, while Marines folded chairs and put tables away, a wind kicked up. The red, white and blue colors lifted in the air, unfurling in the morning sun. Today, Old Glory will fly at half-staff throughout America in remembrance of a day that changed the lives of millions and now brings hope to Afghanistan.
Article by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo, Regional Command Southwest