On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists from the Islamist group Al-Qaeda hijacked four planes, flying two into the World Trade Center in New York City and another into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, after passengers attempted to gain control of the plane from the hijackers.
Nineteen years later, the City of Hattiesburg continued its annual tradition of honoring the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives in the attacks with a 9/11 Memorial Ceremony held Friday morning at Fire Station No. 1 in downtown.
“For those of us who are alive and of age to recall what was actually happening, we always remember where we were – as my parents remembered where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated or when the Challenger exploded,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “But what we also remember of that time is that it seemed that the best of America showed up in the days, weeks and months following September 11.
“People were kinder, more aware of the needs and anxieties of those around them, and more willing to step forward in service to a cause greater than themselves. Some 20 years later, almost, as we fight a faceless and seemingly unpredictable enemy, history is calling for people to summon the best of themselves once again. During this pandemic, the soul of our nation beckons us to weather this season of uncertainty with humility and courage.”
After Barker’s remarks, the Hattiesburg Fire Honor Guard lowered the United States flag before John Eze Uzodinma II played the National Anthem on the fiddle. While bells tolled to mark the times of the planes hitting the towers, Hattiesburg fire chief Sherrocko Stewart and Hattiesburg police chief Anthony Parker each spoke for a few minutes in honor of the victims.
“We commemorate this day every year to pay our respects, to remind ourselves that even in the midst of tragedy, we will unite and overcome,” Parker said. “The events of that day have greatly impacted our daily lives, changed how we view our world, and altered our perception of our country and what it means to be an American.
“As each bell rings, we ask you to remember all who were lost that day. By the numbers, we lost 343 brothers and sisters with the Fire Department of New York, 23 with the New York Police Department, 37 with the Port Authority Police Department, and more than 2,500 civilians and first responders from different organizations. It’s the impact that we feel as first responders that never goes away.”
The keynote speech was delivered by Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Larry Harrington, who spoke about the theme of resilience.
“I think it’s important that we mourn the loss of life,” he said. “We remember the family members and friends of those great heroes, and those individuals that lost their lives on this day.
“And we remember their resilience – the resilience that allowed this nation to survive that kind of attack. We can only pray that God blesses us always with the resilience to prepare, resist, adapt, recover and survive the next devastating event like 9/11.”
Following the keynote address, Allen B. Carter of American Legion Post 24 was presented with an $18,000 check and the Hattiesburg Police Honor Guard performed a 24-gun salute. The program was concluded with the laying of the wreath by Hattiesburg Police Department, Hattiesburg Fire Department and AAA Ambulance, and the playing of “Taps” by Navy veteran Howell Purvis.
“This morning, as we feel the discomfort of hearing the bells toll, of recounting the day’s events, and remembering where we were, let us search our hearts and find the best of ourselves once more,” Barker said.