Today, on a fair day quite like the one 20 years ago when terrorists flew two hijacked airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, a few hundred people gathered at the county’s Liberty Memorial to remember those killed in the attacks.
“On this day tomorrow, 20 years ago, our country changed forever,” said Prince William Chair At-Large Ann Wheeler during the ceremony to remember those who died in the twin towers, the Pentagon and in a field in Shanksville Penn., where a fourth plane crashed when passengers fought back against their hijackers.
“Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives when terrorists attacked our nation,” Wheeler said. “Across Prince William County, we lost 22 residents, more than any other in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area. Today we remember and honor those people we lost in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. We remember and honor those we lost and the families and friends they left behind.”
The first hijacked airplane hit the first tower at 8:46 a.m. The second plane hit the second tower at 9:03 a.m. At 9:37 a.m., the third plane hit the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed into the Shanksville field at 10:03 a.m., Wheeler said. In all, 2,977 people perished that day.
It is a custom among fire departments to ring a bell when a firefighter falls. The bells ring in three rounds of five tolls. The same was true at the ceremony when the bell tolled to remember victims of 9/11.
Bill Milne, chair of the Prince William County Planning Commission, who was a U.S. Coast Guard captain, commanding a ship in New York Harbor on 9/11, said he remembered the airplanes crashing into the towers, the plumes of smoke, the glow of flames, and New York water taxies taking first responders to Ground Zero. He remembers watching first responders struggling to breathe through soot-clogged masks, walking through remnants of broken glass and inches of dust from the wreckage and welders cutting through steel looking for survivors.
Milne said that many will “remain angered and heartbroken, many will choose to forgive.”
Milne said that with the passage of time, he sees “the beginning of a new day – a day that promised hope and strength – hope that would guide us to a better future, strength that would cement ourselves and our resolve as a nation.”
“While history will not let us forget this day, know that each morning brings a day of hope. Remember the past, but I want you all to live for the future. God bless and Semper Piratus,” Milne said using the Latin phrase for “Always Ready.”
Brenda Lynch, who lost her husband James T. Lynch, Jr. in the Pentagon attack, also spoke at the ceremony at the Liberty Memorial, near the McCoart Government Center, and said the attack changed her life forever “We had planned things to do after we both retired and that was just not going to happen. Sometimes it feels like it has been 20 years and other times it feels like it was yesterday, but life goes on. Sept. 11, 2001 is a time in our lives now just like the other dates in our country’s history. If you ask someone where they were on Sept. 11, they can tell you where they were and what they were doing when our nation was attacked in our own backyard.
“Today let us remember our loved ones, our husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors who we lost that day 20 years ago. They were all at work or play enjoying their freedom just like any other day. We, as a country, should never take that freedom for granted,” Lynch said.
Jeff Carter, who was the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department chaplain during the first 10 years after 9/11 called for a moment of silence before offering a benediction. “In this time may we be united in a moment of silence, a moment of deep silence, a moment to acknowledge, a moment to remember, a moment to honor, a moment to be together, unified as one people with one story,”
“We give thanks for the lives of those we remember and for their reflections seen in growing children, flagpoles standing as sentinels … to those recruits joining hero ranks to uphold public safety.” Carter prayed. “We remember. We remember life, all that was in the passing of time and all that has become. On this day we remember a morning 20 years ago born of innocence, a day shrouded in darkness and weeks, if not years, of reckoning, a reckoning of the goodness of heroes rushing to help with the evil of cowards seeking ruin.”
Nick Wilcher, sang “the Star-Spangled Banner and “God Bless America.” Bugler Donna Flory played “A Call to Order” to begin the ceremony and “Taps” to end the ceremony.
Following is a list of the Prince William County residents who died at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.