Those of us old enough all remember Sept. 11, 2001, Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail said.
“In fact, you probably remember where you were standing, who you were standing with, what you were doing and where you were,” Lail said. “It’s ingrained. It’s burned into our memory.”
Such memories, Lail added, are worthy of always remembering and never forgetting.
“But, let me bring something to the forefront,” Lail added. “We all remember Sept. 11 and the impact it had on us. But as we go from here today holding those memories of the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice I want us also to always remember Sept. 12, 2001.”
How many, Lail asked the crowd of about 60 gathered Saturday at the Cleburne Conference Center, recall the day after Sept. 11?
“That was the moment our country was the most galvanized, the most singular minded and path driven we have ever been that I can think of,” Lail said. “In that moment we found unity. We found a singleness of purpose and followed that path.
“Sept. 11 was the most heinous, most devastating attack on our soil in American history. But Sept. 12 was the most focused we’ve ever been.”
Such, unfortunately, is less the case today, Lail added.
“We live in a difficult time,” Lail said. “We live in a world now where it’s brother against brother, sister against sister and we’re fighting over wearing masks and it’s political party this and that. But I submit to you that we sure need to find some Sept. 12, find that brotherhood, that sisterhood, that unity again Put down our swords and just be one. We need to always remember Sept. 11. We need to never forget Sept. 12.”
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain agreed.
“Today we fight over a piece of cloth, political unrest, political extremism and we all express our opinions calling it speaking our truth,” Cain said. “But take heart because we are still Americans. It’s in our DNA. It’s time we get back to the basics.”
Cain called upon all to remember the victims and heros of Sept. 11, 2001.
“That they went into their morning on Sept. 11 as ordinary Americans and came out extraordinary patriots,” Cain said. “America is exceptional because Americans are exceptional. We are fiercely independent and we are fiercely loyal.”
Both spoke during Saturday’s 20th anniversary remembrance of the victims and events of Sept. 11, 2001, an event attended by members of the Cleburne Fire Department, Cleburne Police Department, veterans and active military members, area residents and others.
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, recalled telling his daughters, then 11 and 13, to look at the skies that day.
“I told them that they may never see this again with the skies so empty,” Williams said.
Williams added that the events of that day and the days that followed forever changed the course of America and the world.
“It seems just like yesterday,” Williams said. “I remember my father talking about Pearl Harbor. That was just like yesterday to him.”
Williams spoke of the victims and of the spirit of America call to action that followed in the days and months after. More than 181,000 men and women enlisted during the following year, Williams said, with many stressing that the events of Sept. 11 inspired them to do so.”
It’s important as well, Williams added, to never forget especially given that so many alive now had not yet been born when the tragedies occurred.
“As time continues to pass, generations will never know or understand what that day was like for the so many of us who can remember it all too well,” Williams said. “It’s critical that we continue to reflect on moments like this and continue to explain the significance of days like that day so that no generation will forget or lose sight of what Sept. 11 means to our country.
“Two decades later we mourn the people we never met. We reflect on the day that changed our country’s history forever more and remember the American spirit and resiliency that comforted us during those darkest hours.”
Cleburne resident Christy Bowling, a U.S. Army veteran, spoke of being 17 years and 7 days old on Sept. 11, 2001.
A student in rural Louisiana at the time, Bowling said wasn’t sure what terrorism was but knew that day changed things and felt compelled to do something.
“I was too young to join the army,” Bowling said. “Or really to do anything for about four months when a recruiter came to my high school and talked to us. I knew I had to do something.”
Bowling enlisted in 2002 and went on to serve in Iraq.
Bowling spoke of visiting Ground Zero about a year after the attacks and trying to wrap her mind around the events of that day while at the same time trying to comprehend a sense of what the people there that day must have felt.
“I spent 16 years with the most courageous, selfless people that ever walked the earth,” Bowling said of her military service. “And I will never forget them or the time I had with my brothers and my sisters.”
Lail also spoke of the firefighters, police officers and rescue workers present that day and the service men and women who answered the call in the months following.
“Those firemen, those police officers, when they ran into those towers I promise you that not a single one of them said, ‘I’m a hero,’” Lail said. “Nor the members of the military either. Every single one of them said, ‘Let’s roll,’ and a lot ot them never rolled back.”
Cleburne American Legion Auxiliary member Marty Peters explained the various items and significance of a table placed in front of the podium honoring all who played a role in the events of Sept. 11 and beyond.
Cleburne Sons of American Legion 6th District Commander Ken Peters Jr. lit candles as Marty Peters recognized the 343 firefighters, 72 police officers and seven EMTs and paramedics killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Additional candles were lit as Peters recognized the civilians killed that day in the towers, Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania field. Peters focused particular attention on the eight children ages 2 to 11 on the doomed flights.
“We also must not forget the over 40,000 who worked nine months clearing debris and recovering bodies after the attacks,” Peters said. “Hundreds of these workers have serious health issues caused by inhaling contaminated dust. And also the over 300 dogs that searched for living victims in the hours and days that followed the collapsed buildings. Dogs who also gave moral support to all the workers. These four-legged friends also put their lives on the line.”
Cain spoke of Welles Remy Crowther, one of many who, instead of running to safety that day, remained behind to help others and sacrificed his life in the process.
“Today, 20 years later, we pause to remember Welles Remy Crowther, a 24-year-old ordinary American who rose to the occasion and became an extraordinary patriot and the many others like him that day,” Cain said.
Lail called for a moment of silence for the victims of that day after which members of the Cleburne Fire Department played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.
Lail concluded by urging attendees to live today as if it is their last.
“Remember those people who never got their tomorrow, make sure we honor them,” Lail said. Love people. Support people. Let’s find some Sept. 12 unity. Let’s go back to that. That is the best way to honor and preserve the memory of those people who sacrificed that day.”