LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Members of the LAAFB community joined together on Sept. 11 to pay tribute to the memory of the men and women who lost their lives 10 years ago in the terrorist attacks at the New York City World Trade Center, The Pentagon and aboard United Airlines Flight 93. The ceremony included personal anecdotes of experiences that day along with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time when the first plane hit the North tower of the World Trade Center.
The words of "America the Beautiful," as sang in the haunting voice of Ray Charles, set the somber mood at the start of the ceremony. Chaplain (Capt.) Gary Lewis offered an invocation, remembering not only the men and women who perished on 9/11, but also acknowledging the men and women public servants in the audience. "Look on us this morning, we who have gathered ... who have lived in this day for ten years. We are those who were already serving, or who responded to that emergency call ten years ago," he said.
Military and civilian employees at LAAFB, and their families and friends were joined by members from Los Angeles City Fire Department, El Segundo Police Department and El Segundo Fire Department to collaboratively remember the events of 9/11 in the same manner that they join together in serving the community. The terrorist attacks forever changed the way public service organizations work together.
"Communication and cooperation between federal, state, county and local law enforcement, is more effective and frequent than ever. In the past 10 years, I have seen far greater cooperation between my organization and the LAAFB security police. This regular interaction has led to increased trust, familiarity and cooperation, and allows our organizations to better serve the El Segundo greater community," said El Segundo Police Chief Mitch Tavera.
The events of 9/11 triggered solidarity among public servants across the nation. Capt. Paul Sebourn, Los Angeles City Fire Department, along with 24 other members of LAFD, travelled to New York to help with rescue and recovery operations in any way they could. In his 25 years of service as a first responder, he said he had never witnessed such utter destruction. But, he also said it was a great honor to work alongside his brothers and sisters of the New York Fire Department, who at times were on their hands and knees digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors. "We were representing all of the fellow firefighters who wanted to help but couldn't go. We just had an opportunity," he said.
The image of the planes hitting the twin towers will forever be a reminder of one simple fact: The unexpected had happened; terrorism had hit the United States. "For all Americans, for all time, the phrase 9/11 will invoke a special meaning, a memory of a moment in our history when the world as we knew it changed forever. Today we recall and we remember what we learned about ourselves on Sept. 11, 2001: Where were you, who were you with, what did you feel," said Sebourn.
Satellite Control and Network Systems Division Chief Col. Charles Helwig, III, was stationed at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Belgium at the time, and he shared with the audience his experience in Europe. "The instantaneous reaction where we worked, [at NATO], was no doubt the same as many other public buildings here in the United States: get out and get home," he said.
Helwig said in the days and weeks following 9/11, there was a book of condolences placed in the lobby at NATO, and one phrase was repeated over and over again in various languages: 'We are all Americans.' "Even 10 years later, I'm moved by the collective reaction of the citizens and statesmen of Europe," he said.
The attacks of 9/11 were attacks on every individual's inalienable rights to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. "It's that code that firefighters, police officers, first responders, and servicemen share to preserve the American dream for our families, friends and countrymen ... not only for Americans, but for all who believe our ideals are worth pursuing," Helwig said.
Col. Frank Simcox, commander, 61st Air Base Group at LAAFB, honored those who continue to serve, those who fulfill a calling to protect the public. The fight against terrorism continues, he said. And he asked the audience, "When you see our men and women in uniform, whether they are in the military or your local police or fire department, please thank them for their service, for we never know when they will make the ultimate sacrifice."
It is that continued solidarity among public servants to eradicate terrorism wherever it exists that honors those who perished ten years ago. "We remember those who gave all and promise to never forget," said Sebourn.