Photo by Julia Simpkins

JBM-HH fire Capt. William Long tolls the bell during the Patriot Day ceremony Friday.

Joint base commemorates 9/11 during Patriot Day ceremony

On Sept. 10, 2001, almost 9,000 people went to bed and thinking the next day would just be another day. However, Sept. 11, 2001, wasn’t an ordinary day. That day became a day of one of the deadliest terrorist act in the history of this nation. Almost 3,000 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured. 

On Friday, Joint Base Myer-Henderson hall and Fort McNair concurrently commemorated 9/11 with a Patriot Day ceremony held at the joint base fire station and on Fort McNair. Observances were also held in southwest Washington, D.C., and at the Pentagon.

It was a clear and sunny day, 19 years ago when terrorists hijacked four passenger aircraft to carry out coordinate suicide attacks, explained Joint Base Myer Henderson-Hall Commander Col. Kimberly Peeples. Terrorists flew two aircraft into the World Trade Center in New York, one aircraft flew into the Pentagon and a fourth aircraft flew into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing everyone onboard.

American Airlines Flight 77 took off from Dulles Airport at 8:20 a.m. The Boeing 757 was headed to Los Angeles with 64 people onboard. At 9:37 a.m., the hijackers flew Flight 77 into the western wall of the Pentagon, killing everyone onboard as well as 125 service members and civilian in the Pentagon.

“Our Fort Myer firefighters stood ready in the station as they do each and every day”, said Peeples. “Three firefighters were onsite at the Pentagon at the time Flight 77 flew into the building — firefighter Allan Wallace, firefighter Mark Skipper and firefighter Dennis Young.  Firefighters Wallace and Skipper were working next to Fort Myer’s air and crash vehicle Foam 161, (which was) parked at the Pentagon that morning. 

“The airplane hit to the right of where the fire truck was parked. The truck took on some of the ensuing blast with the rear of the truck catching on fire.  Firefighters Wallace and Skipper had only seconds to respond when they saw the airplane approaching. The fire truck protected them from the ensuing fire and flying debris that followed.  Then they, together with firefighter Young, began to assist people who were trying to escape the burning building. Their actions were heroic and epitomize the skill and selfless service of our own Company 161, Company 46, our law enforcement and all first responders each and every day.”

Peeples added that Fort Myer first responders were the first to arrive on the scene, joined by Arlington County and other area first responders.

“This mutual aid and partnership remains iron clad as we continue to work together, day in and day out, as one team, ready, in the defense of our American values, our way of life and our freedom,” she said.

In the days and weeks that followed, the garrison military and civilian personnel joined forces with all agencies to provide critical support to survivors, families and the loved ones of victims at the crash site and at Fort Myer. 

“This was a sobering, but pivotal time here at America’s Post and in our nation’s history,” Peeples said.  “Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and our dedicated team and community played a critical role. 

“We gather today to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We honor the memories of the souls we lost and pay tribute to their Families who remember this day and their loss every moment. We honor our military and first responders (who) answered the call and continue to risk their lives each and every day for freedom. We honor our garrison team, all service providers and this amazing community — the National Capital Region — who work each and every day in service to others, and for our great nation. At Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and Fort McNair, we remember and we will stand strong and ready to answer our nation’s call, no matter the price.”

JBM-HH Fire Chief Russell Miller said Friday was a special day for the base firefighter family. Some of the first responders from Fort Myer who were the first to arrive on the scene are still with the joint base fire station today. They include Capt. Roger Rearden and firefighter James Drake. Capt. William Long was also onsite that day, but with another fire unit.

“While time and distance help may help to heal the wounds from that day and make them easier to bear, we vow to be here every year to provide support and to ensure we never forget,” Miller said.

Miller added that part of Friday’s program was merging the English tradition of the tolling of a bell with the final callout by the fire service of “5-5-5-5” for the New York City firefighters who failed to return on that day. The bell tolling will honor all personnel who died from these events.

At 9:37 a.m. Long rang the fire and emergency services ceremonial bell — the exact time the airplane hit the Pentagon. After the bell Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Northman, bugler with the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.”

Pentagram Editor Catrina Francis can be reached at catrina.s.francis2.civ@mail.mil.