Members of the Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., community commemorated the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that occurred on America Sept. 11, 2001, and those who have lost their lives supporting the Global War on Terror, with a special ceremony and flyover at the United States Air Force Warfare Center Headquarters Sept. 10, 2021.
Guests arrived at the ceremony surrounded by first responders as bagpipes played in the background.
The Fire Department Honor Guard raised the American Flag and then lowered it to half-staff to honor the fallen. The audience rose as retired North Las Vegas Fire Department Capt. Cedric Williams sang the National Anthem.
“Sept. 11, 2001, changed our lives forever and became a solemn part of history we will never forget,” said Tony Rabonza, Nellis AFB fire chief. “It changed the way we think, the way we act, the way we respond. We all come from different backgrounds and walks of life, but we stand side-by-side, stitched together, creating the interwoven framework that supports the weight of reliance on our capabilities to save lives and restore good order.”
Twenty years ago at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time, hijacked Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. followed by Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
After a battle for control between passengers and hijackers, Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m.
During the ceremony, North Las Vegas Deputy Fire Chief Gary Stover recalled the “heavy burden” the New York Fire Department faced. He and 12 others traveled 2,500 miles to New York City to offer whatever help was needed. Although their assistance wasn’t needed at Ground Zero, the team supported the Fire Department of New York by attending funerals to respect those who lost their lives.
“I cannot tell you how many funerals I attended that week, but it was at least one a day,” he said. “I spent many hours sitting alongside the FDNY members who lost someone special or in some cases their entire fire station. It was a surreal moment in time for me personally, to really feel the magnitude of what had just happened.”
Command Chief Master Sergeant Alex Morgan III, 99th Air Base Wing command chief, said the 2,977 people who lost their lives, including 445 first responders who selflessly sacrificed themselves saving countless others, were the first casualties in the Global War on Terror.
“They answered their call to duty without hesitation, and then that call was passed on. Our military was asked to respond, to defend our nation, our institutions and our way of life,” he said.
Morgan shared his memories as an explosive ordnance disposal technician and weapons intelligence team leader in Iraq and Afghanistan and the stories of two service members who were killed — Marine Staff Sgt. David Lyons and Gunnery Sgt. Chris Eastman.
“Chris, Dave and the thousands of others will never be forgotten. Even as the years pass and our next generation steps forward, we will remember them,” he said.
Morgan noted that we closed the chapter on Afghanistan 11 days ago.
“Challenges will continue to test, but not deter our resolve. But because of you, we were and will remain the world’s greatest military. When asked, we will always be ready, and our nation’s men and women will never die in vain,” he added.
To respectfully recognize the memories of the people killed Sept. 11, 2001, and the days following, along with the 7,000 service members who died fighting the Global War on Terror, the ceremony concluded with a traditional firefighter’s Ringing of the Bell Ceremony followed by bagpipes playing Amazing Grace and a wreath laying.
Then, Taps was played as a missing man formation assembled by a pair of F-16’s and F-15’s flying over the base as a final aerial salute to the fallen.
“Today, we honor those who have served before us, give praise to those who currently serve with us and share our traditions to those who will take our places and serve in the future. We are first responders, and we will continue to strengthen the core of our existence and to serve humbly each and every day,” said Rabonza.