When clear skies turned into a shower of burning debris after two planes crashed back-to-back into the World Trade Center’s twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, it became clear that America was under attack.
Millions watched the events of that day unfold on live TV, including a third plane that crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth that went down in a rural field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
A total of 2,996 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks, including the 19 terrorist hijackers aboard the four airplanes.
Hosted in Keene at Callicott Student Park, police and fire departments from across Johnson County participated in a memorial observance on Monday to honor those who lost their lives 16 years ago.
Alvarado Fire Chief Richard VanWinkle said although so many lives were lost, they will never be forgotten.
“Of those who died during the initial attacks and the subsequent collapses of the towers, 343 were New York City firefighters,” he said. “Another 23 were New York City police officers. And 37 were officers of the Port Authority.
“This left thousands of families without their mothers and fathers to come home at night. It would end up costing the United States trillions of dollars in damage and economic loss. This morning we will stand and remember and honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Keene Mayor James Chapline said he remembers being in disbelief with what was unfolding on TV that morning, and wondered who would stand in the breach and stop the nightmare.
“We found that out in short order as we watched the firefighters rush not away, but to the very heart of the flames and destruction,” he said. “We watched as the police did the same. Everyday Joes just like us stepped up to be counted. We watched as firefighters went into the buildings and started climbing to the top, the impossible task, but they headed up anyway, knowing they would likely die in this building, in this stairway, on this day.”
Because of their efforts, Chapline said many were saved.
“The cost was high, higher than anyone other than military has paid, but they did not stop to think about death,” he said. “They only thought of the lives they could save. They climbed upward. America and Americans changed forever that day.”
At 8:46 a.m., which was the time the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower, two of Keene’s firefighters began ceremoniously raising the flag in the center of the pond at the park.
After the flag was lowered to half mast, the crowd paused for a one-minute moment of silence followed by the singing of the national anthem, a musical presentation by Keene ISD students and Cleburne Fire Department’s pipe and drum brigade and a helicopter fly over.
Attendees were also able to see and touch a fragment of twisted metal that was salvaged from the rubble of one of the World Trade Center towers.
An enduring nation
During a 9/11 memorial observance at the Pentagon on Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump said when Americans are faced with hardships they emerge closer, stronger and more determined than ever.
“In the years after Sept. 11, more than 5 million young men and women have joined the ranks of our great military to defend our country against barbaric forces of evil and destruction,” he said. “American forces are relentlessly pursuing and destroying the enemies of all civilized people, ensuring — and these are horrible, horrible enemies — enemies like we’ve never seen before. But we’re ensuring they never again have a safe haven to launch attacks against our country. We are making plain to these savage killers that there is no dark corner beyond our reach, no sanctuary beyond our grasp, and nowhere to hide anywhere on this very large Earth.
“Since 9/11, nearly 7,000 servicemembers have given their lives fighting terrorists around the globe. Some of them rest just beyond this fence, in the shrine to our nation’s heroes, on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. They came from all backgrounds, all races, all faiths, but they were all there to dedicate their lives, and they defend our one great American flag.
“They — and every person who puts on the uniform — have the love and gratitude of our entire nation.”