FORT POLK, La. — Guest gathered at the Fort Polk Fire Station Sept. 11 to pay homage to Soldiers, first responders and civilians who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists commandeered four civilian airliners, crashing two into the twin World Center Trade Towers in New York, one into the Pentagon in Washington, and one in an open field in Pennsylvania.
Nearly 3,000 were killed in the attacks that have resulted in a War on Terrorism that has lasted more than 18 years and claimed the lives of more than 6000 service members including 96 from Fort Polk.
Col. Ryan K. Roseberry, Fort Polk garrison commander, reminded the solemn assembly how on that morning 18 years before, as black smoke poured from the World Trade Center towers, firemen, police officers and paramedics ran towards danger to protect American citizens and ensure no one was left behind.
“They demonstrated Warrior Ethos,” Roseberry said.
He also noted how the 40-plus passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 halted an attack on the U.S. Capitol by wrestling control of the aircraft from the terrorists, crashing it into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, costing them their lives, but saving countless others.
“Their ‘Let’s Roll’ became a rallying cry for thousands of citizens who would soon raise their right hand to become the fighting force who have since deployed during the last 18 years of continuous combat.”
Roseberry then highlighted the “Warrior Spirit” demonstrated by the Soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors who ran to rescue their fellow service members when a plane plunged into the Pentagon.
As the ceremony began at 9 a.m., a salute was paid to Fort Polk’s first responders — firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians. In his remarks, Roseberry thanked the first responders from the installation and surrounding communities for providing a safe environment for Soldiers and their Families.
Roseberry recalled the image of President George Bush, standing with a bullhorn on a debris pile at Ground Zero, next to a New York City firefighter.
“The President told the crowd of first responders, ‘I can hear you, the rest of the world canhear you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,’” Roseberry said. “Our heroic first responders would soon pass this fight to those of us in camouflage as our Nation would defeat terrorists in multiple regions around the globe.”
Roseberry closed by highlighting the role played by the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk in preparing American Soldiers for the rigors of combat. He then thanked everyone for attending the ceremony and issued a challenge.
“Today, on this Patriot’s Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance, continue to watch over the Families of our fallen, and may we never forget how special it is to live in a country that in our darkest hour, had citizens, first responders and Soldiers forging the Warrior Spirit for our Nation.”
Fort Polk Police Chief Bobby Lungrin said that on Sept. 11, 2001, police officers, firefighters, Soldiers and citizens awoke and went about their daily lives, unaware of what the day would hold or that shortly, the world would be changed forever.
“On that day, thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror,” Lungrin said, his voice trembling with emotion. “In New York City, first responders rushed against the tide of people fleeing burning buildings hoping to save their fellow citizens — 412 of them perished alongside those they tried to save.”
Lungrin pointed out that since it’s been 18 years since that infamous day, most first responders and Soldiers entering service were either not born, have no memory of the event or do not recall the empathy or anger felt by many Americans that day.
“Much was made of the nation never forgetting,” he said. “Unfortunately, some have forgotten. For some, vigilance has been replaced with complacency.
“But this is America,” he continued. “The character and qualities that defined the heroes of that day are still present in first responders and Soldiers. Rest assured the current generation stands ready to meets any future attacks with determination, resolve and bravery if called upon.”
Fort Polk Fire Chief Bill Nowlin followed Lungrin and related the story of New Your Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Pfieffer. Pfieffer was the initial incident commander at the twin towers and made his command post in the lobby of Tower One.
“The chief gave orders to the first arriving firefighters, including a young lieutenant on Engine 33,” Nowlin said. “He told the lieutenant to advance his crew to the 70th floor. The order was immediately followed.”
Nowlin said the lieutenant was Kevin Pfieffer, Joe Pfieffer’s younger brother.
“Kevin Pfieffer died that day,” Nowlin said, voice crackling at the gravity of his comments. “That was the last time the chief spoke to his brother. This is the meaning of sacrifice; this is the meaning of selflessness; this is truly the meaning of service before self.”
Nowlin said as horrible as Sept. 11, 2001 was, it should serve to remind of the heroic stories of ordinary citizens who went above and beyond the call of duty to help their fellow Americans.
“It should remind us all what makes this country so great,” he said. “I challenge everyone to remember our commitment to this great nation, the ideas on which it is founded, the concept of heroes, the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The ceremony began with a silent tribute, followed by a fire station bell sounding for 30 seconds. Chap. (Lt. Col.) Derrick E. Riggs, Fort Polk installation chaplain, offered the invocation, followed by the National Anthem.
Following the speakers, Roseberry, Lungrin and Nowlin, along with Fort Polk’s NCO of the Year, Sgt. Elvis Palarchie, Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, laid a wreath honoring those who lost their lives in the War on Terrorism.
Spc. McKayla S. Taylor, 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment, closed the ceremony by playing Taps.
Following the ceremony Commander of Operations Group Col. David Gardner said it’s important to hold these ceremonies so Americans won’t forget those who fell that day and those who continue to serve.
“Eighteen years ago I was in Kosovo and my wife and son were in New York City,” he said. “It was disbelief.”
Former Fort Polk Fire Chief Michael Kuk said he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas when the attacks took place.
“My personal connection was that I had seven buddies who were senior chiefs in the New York City Fire Department, who I had gone to school with, trained with, attended conferences together, and they didn’t make it,” he said. “I want to honor their memory. I knew they were being crushed and it tore me up. If we forget, we’ll never sustain our democracy.”
Retired Lt. Col. Mark Leslie, Fort Polk’s deputy chief of Emergency Services, said he was returning to his home at Fort Hood, Texas after PT when he heard on his car radio about the first plane hitting one of the towers.
“As I walked through the door, my wife was watching TV and the second plane hit,” he said. “We just sat and watched; we couldn’t believe it.”
Leslie said he headed back to work with a renewed sense of purpose.
“Shortly after, I took command and deployed a company four or five months later,” he said. “It (the attacks) gave us all a sense of purpose. Having 3,000 Americans killed on our own soil by a cowardly act, hit us hard. Civilian deaths always hit you harder, because you kind of expect military deaths. It’s one of the hazards of our profession. But when people we’re supposed to protect are killed, it has quite an affect on you.”
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