9/11 Ceremony: ‘We have an obligation to never forget’
story submitted by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
From the symbolism of the flyover by the 188th Fighter Wing to the wistful tones of "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, those attending a 9/11 remembrance ceremony on Sept. 10 paused to remember as they were urged to not forget.
The ceremony held on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith was hosted by the Fort Smith Fire Department and included participation by the Fort Smith Police Department, the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas National Guard and UA Fort Smith.
Approximately 400 people — UAFS students, staff and community members — were in attendance, some seated and others standing as the action unfolded. When the National Anthem ended, the signal was given and the two aircraft could be seen crossing campus from west to east, passing the bell tower.
Between the flyover by the 188th Fighter Wing near the beginning of the remembrance ceremony and the playing of "Amazing Grace" by Harriett Sisson of the Ozark Highlander’s Pipe Band were three speakers and other symbolic activities.
Dr. Robert Willoughby, interim chair of the UAFS History Department, gave a historical perspective to the event from Sept. 11, 2001, the day four planes were hijacked and hijackers created a furor of destruction. They flew the planes into two important buildings, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Willoughby said every person alive on that day was a witness.
"Personal witness is an important tool of the historian," he said, explaining how historians record history.
"We did witness a crime, a horrendous crime against the people of this nation, in a sense, against the people of the world," Willoughby said. He added that historians inquire about facts and try to determine the truth. What happened on Sept. 11, he stated, " … does not make all followers of Islam, or even a majority of them, our enemy."
He restated that in a sense, all individuals could even be considered historians of that day.
"As citizens of a democratic society," he said, "we have an obligation to never forget."
Col. Tom Anderson, commander of the 188th, told how the events on Sept. 11, 2001, "invaded our comfort zone" and recalled how he was sitting in a chair at his dentist’s office as the actions of the terrorists became known.
"That day will exist as a painful reminder to all citizens of this great nation that the cost of freedom — the very way of life that we Americans enjoy — comes at a very high price," he said. "While we lost so many great Americans that day, we gained a renewed focus."
Col. Anderson related the series of events affecting the 188th that day and in the years which followed.
"Much has transpired since that tragic day," he said. "The 188th has endured much change in nine years. Now the 188th stands more relevant and ready to serve than ever before."
He again praised what the 188th does on a regular basis at home, in Afghanistan, and in other parts of the world.
Fire Chief Mike Richards focused on the victims of Sept. 11.
"We must not forget the 2,976 victims that left their homes and families that morning, not knowing they would never return," Richards said, also recognizing those who have given their lives since then in the name of freedom.
Richards also explained the history of the bell ceremony, which was part of the event and used to show respect for 343 firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians who died that day in 2001.
"If they could talk to us today," he said, "they would not want to be classified as victims. I believe they would tell us they were just doing what they do, saving lives and protecting the public.”
He added that each person at the UAFS ceremony would remember something about Sept. 11, 2001, that stood out personally. For Richards, it was a photo of a New York firefighter as he was ascending the stairwell, moving toward danger.
"He represents all of the firefighters … who gave their lives that day saving others," Richards said. "We must never forget the past. To do so would be an injustice to all those who died."
The 9/11 remembrance ceremony also included the Fort Smith Fire Department Color Guard posting the colors and the Fort Smith Police Department Honor Guard Firing Party.