EL CENTRO – Â U.S. Navy personnel and guests gathered at the main flagpole of the Naval Air Facility Monday morning for the Sept. 11, 2001 remembrance ceremony of the attack on U.S. soil 16 years ago.
The three-minute silence in preparation for morning colors and invocation gave all a moment to reflect as the U.S. flag waved with the gentle breeze flown at half-mast.
Command Master Chief Jeremy Embree, acting as the Master of Ceremonies, welcomed both active and retired military personnel, the British Army, and civilians. Behind the flag pole were parked emergency response and law enforcement vehicles.
Embree reminded those present of what took place 16 years ago. Nineteen militants hijacked four airlines and carried out a major terrorist attack on United States soil. It resulted in 2,996 people killed and over 6,000 people injured representing 90 countries. Those who died that day included 343 firefighters, 9 emergency medical personnel, and 71 law enforcement officers.
Embree said the emotional pain of September 2001 still lingers today.
“Sometimes,” he said, “we forget there are still people who live with this everyday. Those people who lost a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a wife, or husband. For them, the pain continues as they struggle though life without a potential breadwinner, a companion, a role model, or a hero.”
He asked the audience to take a moment of silence in respect for our deceased and their families.
Commanding Officer of NAF El Centro Captain Brent Alfonzo took to the podium and thanked the audience for attending the ceremony. He emphasized two words, â€œNever Forget.â€
He said many of those who died never knew why they were attacked or who their attackers were.
â€œWe must never forget. We must never forget that there are those in the world who wish to kill Americans, to kill those allied with us, to utterly destroy the United States. They do so because of our polices, past and present, our allies of today and yesterday, because of who we are, what we believe, what they believe, or even what they may have heard about us.â€
Because of this, Commander Alfonzo said, “We perpetually live with the threat of enemies, both known and unknown. We must also never forget that we are vulnerable to those who do us harm. We place ourselves at risk because we adhere to our forefathers ideals of freedom and liberty. Let us never forget, we have the strength to prevail,â€ Cmdr. Alfonzo said.
During that historic moment, Cmdr. Adam Schlismann, then a 25-year-old Lieutenant, was at home with his newly-married bride, preparing for his first sea tour in the U.S. Navy. He was an aviator flying reconnaissance aircraft.
According to Schlismann, it was supposed to be a normal working day just like any other day. That is, until he saw the news.
â€œFirst of all, history had just happened. And not history in a good way either. But Thousands of people had been killed, thousands of people had been hurt. This is the kind of thing that people will remember for generations to come just like a Pearl Harbor type of event.â€
Robert Moffat, a retired senior chief in the navy, was stationed at the Pentagon during 9-11. He was attached to the Chairman’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He was halting with his his speech as he recalled the events that took place that day. He said he put on his hat and helped evacuate personnel from different corridors within the Pentagon where 2,700 people worked.
â€œItÂ always will be an emotional day for everybody who lived through it. And it is great that people remember 9-11 because it was a huge turning point in our nation that we keep on battling today,â€ Moffat said.
Several other officers shared their accounts that took place that day. Command Master Chief Jeremy Embree called several Navy personnel to the podium who read the names of Naval officers killed on Sept. 11.
According to Cmdr. Schlismann, ceremonies and commemorations like this are important to keep September 11 from becoming just another history event in a textbook that doesnâ€™t have meaning for people.
â€œThe way for us to continue honoring the people that died and remember the significance of the day is to remember it formally and also informally. Discuss it with our kids.â€