It was 12 years ago today that terrorists hijacked and crashed commercial airliners into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon near Washington, and a field near Shanksville, Pa.
Close to 3,000 people died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which permanently changed the skyline of lower Manhattan and scarred the psyche of Americans and the world.
Groups across the Fort Smith area today (Sept. 11) remembered the lives lost, honoring their memories with moments of silence and ringing of bells.
In Fort Smith, Fire Chief Mike Richards lead the city's remembrance ceremony which started precisely at 9:28 a.m., the moment the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, filling the already smoky New York skyline with tons of soot, ash, melted metal and other debris.
"2,977 people died that day in the largest single foreign attack on American soil," Richards told gathered dignitaries and citizens. "We must never forget. Therefore today, we gather to remember and pay respect to them and the first responders to let the world know how the United States of American will always stand up for freedom regardless of the cost. For those that sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom that day, and the years to follow, we will honor them with a special tribute that is very special to our service."
As the crowd listened on in silence, a bell was rung to remember those who with "honor, pride and respect" died that morning, he said.
City Director Philip Merry was at the ceremony and while fighting back tears, recalled that even facing certain death, the passengers of United Flight 93 took a vote before deciding to challenge the hijackers and attempt to take back the flight.
"Two years ago, I went to the (Sept. 11) service in Shanksville by myself and just went up to take it in and you have recordings up there and testimonials and whatnot that prove that the people on Flight 93, it wasn't just (Todd) Beamer, (Mark) Bingham, (Tom) Burnett and others being a hero," he said. "(T)hey took the time to vote before they did it."
Merry, who is friends with Burnett's wife, Deena, who has since remarried and lives in Little Rock, said that one act should remind Americans not only on Sept. 11, but every election day, about the freedoms American citizens have due to ordinary citizens being willing to stand up and give their lives for the cause of freedom.
In Van Buren, remembrance ceremonies were planned for noon at the Crawford County Courthouse. At that ceremony, survivor Dale Brunk, who was on the 61st floor of Tower 2 during the attack on the World Trade Center, will share his experience of surviving the attack as well as his hope and vision for how the country can continue to move forward, according to an announcement from Van Buren's Heritage United Methodist Church.
While remembrances were held in the Fort Smith area, fewer – if any local government – remembrances were observed in Northwest Arkansas, according to several individuals who spoke with The City Wire.
Officials representing the cities of Bentonville, Fayetteville and Rogers all confirmed that no events commemorating the attacks of Sept. 11 were scheduled and a representative from the Bentonville Chamber said she was unaware of any events scheduled in Northwest Arkansas.
The only publicized event marking the attacks was a blood drive taking place at the University of Arkansas. It was sponsored by the group Muslims for Life. On the organization's website, the group said the event was a way to honor those killed on Sept. 11 and also to emphasize a key Islamic teaching.
"To honor the victims of 9/11 and to emphasize Islam's essential teaching regarding the sanctity of life, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA is organizing its THIRD annual 'Muslims for Life' Blood Drive between August 11, 2013 and October 11, 2013," the organization said. Attempts to reach a local representative of the organization were unsuccessful.
Members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation took time to remember the victims today, with U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., calling on citizens to reflect and remember.
“We cannot, and must not, let the years that have passed erode the memory of the 9/11 terror attacks. Let us use this day to reflect and remember the victims and the heroes who sacrificed tremendously to keep us safe in the aftermath. We will never forget.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, recalled the bravery of the victims that day.
"Today we pause to remember the lives tragically taken from us twelve years ago. It is impossible for us to forget that day—the pain and sadness will forever be etched on our hearts. But we also remember the heroism and selflessness of those who put their lives in danger to help their fellow countrymen. We remember our unity and our strength and our country’s great resolve."
Recalling the horror of that day, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor said first responders should continue to be thanked for their selfless service.
“Like most Americans, I still remember that fateful day—seeing the smoke rise out of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 and witnessing the pain on the faces of Americans who had lost family members, friends, and colleagues. We saw true heroism that day—and in the days, weeks, and years following. Today, we thank the troops, first responders, and families who have sacrificed so much for our nation and those who continue to put their lives on the line for our freedom. We must never forget and we must continue to take steps to protect our homeland.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, offered his prayers to the victims and those who have died in the fight against terrorism since the morning of Sept. 11.
“Today, we remember the innocent Americans who died in the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11th and the heroes that on that day – and for the twelve years since – have selflessly and readily fought to defend our freedoms and our people. My thoughts and prayers and those of a grateful nation are with them and their loved ones.”