On a mild, calm Monday morning, members of the Fort Polk and surrounding communities gathered to pay tribute those who lost their lives in the attacks of September 11, 2001. The memorial also paid homage to military members who have made sacrifices in order to protect the United States in the years since the attacks of that day.
The ceremony began with a silent tribute and tolling of chapel bells, followed by invocation, and national anthem.
Fort Polk and JRTC Garrison Commander Col. Jarrett A. Thomas II addressed the audience, “16 years ago, on a morning very much like this, terrorists attacked the symbols of American strength-- our economy and our commerce, our military might, and our democracy; and took the lives of citizens from more than 90 countries.”
He pointed out that these were the first foreign-based major attacks on the continental United States since the War of 1812.
“All of our lives were changed that day,” said Thomas. “Today we pause to remember the 184 lives lost at the Pentagon, 2700 killed in Lower Manhattan, and 40 who perished on a field in Pennsylvania.”
Thomas made it a point to guide memories and respects also to the first responders who rushed into the fire and chaos to assist in any way they could.
“Today’s soldiers, and the more than three million Americans who have joined the military since 2001, are the 9/11 generation,” said Thomas. “In the last 16 years, more than 2 million of our troops have served in a war zone.”
In an interview, Thomas explained that some soldiers do not have a memory of the events of September 11, 2001, but must remember the sacrifices that others have made, so they know what they are fighting for. “I wasn’t there for the Vietnam and Korean Wars or World War II, but it was important for me to understand the sacrifices those individuals made.”
He was at Fort Jackson, California with his wife at the time of the attacks, where they watched the planes make contact with the Twin Towers in New York. “We knew at that time, our history and our lives would change dramatically.”
Thomas believes the most significant change to the military, since the attacks, is the level of responsibility placed upon soldiers. “Nowadays, a lot of our junior officers are held responsible for a lot more. Some of the things that they do today, more senior officers would do in past generations. So they are way more experienced with the wartime environment.” He feels this is a benefit because, “as they mature in the military, soldiers will be more well-versed in our tactics, techniques and procedures.”
The memorial service concluded with a patriotic song on acoustic guitar, wreath laying, and taps.