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Afghanistan Sept. 11 Ceremony Renews Purpose

By Staff Sgt. Phillip Witzke, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2004 – In a solemn ceremony marked with vivid memories, time-honored traditions, great symbolism and a call to a renewed sense of purpose, Combined Forces Command Afghanistan paused to remember the heinous acts of Sept. 11, 2001, on the third anniversary of the tragedy.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Col. John O'Dowd bows his head in solemn remembrance during a third-anniversary Sept. 11 commemoration ceremony at Combined Forces Command Afghanistan. O'Dowd played a key role in New York City recovery missions in the terror attack's aftermath. Photo by Staff Sgt. Phillip Witzke, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Old Glory hung from the portico, reminiscent of its now familiar posting on the side of the Pentagon, and a lone table with place settings for two honored civilians and military members who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Through the silence of the moment, bells tolled marking the individual times of impact of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center. As the sound of the bells reverberated through the crowd of assembled coalition servicemembers, heads bowed in reverence to the innocent victims.

In a show of faith and appreciation, Mohammad Taher Sadiqee presented an Afghan-made rug to Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, CFC-A commander. Its woven inscription included the statement, "The American people made a great sacrifice for the freedom of the Afghan people and the world by ending the rule of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Please accept this small gift to the American people."

Keynote speaker Army Col. John O'Dowd of Bergenfield, N.J., recalled the dark hours, days and months following the attacks on America. As the newly designated commander of the Army Corps of Engineers in New York City, O'Dowd was an eyewitness to the devastation that occurred that day. Through obvious emotion, he recounted the efforts of the heroes who were made in the grizzly aftermath, and he issued a solemn challenge.

"I have a 10-year-old daughter that from her school classroom that morning was able to look across the harbor and see the pillar of smoke going up into the air," O'Dowd recalled with quivering lips. "She has asked me a number of times since Sept. 11 whether or not people are ever going to fly airplanes into buildings again. My answer has been, 'Kate, not if I have anything to do about it.'"

O'Dowd said for the three years he was in New York, he went about his business with the Corps of Engineers providing for the security of the United States, as all servicemembers do every day. But when the time came for him to finish his tour there, he volunteered to come to Afghanistan. As his words resonated through the hearts and minds of the 100 or so in attendance, the bells tolled once again, marking the impact of American Airlines Flight 77, which slammed into the Pentagon.

The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines assigned to CFC-A then rendered honors as the mournful sound of "Taps" echoed through the courtyard. The ceremony concluded with bells tolling again to mark the impact of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside after passengers heroically prevented the hijackers from accomplishing their mission.

"Having seen what the consequences of failure for us to accomplish our mission here can mean to the United States, and now having seen what failure of that mission would mean for the people of Afghanistan, I stand here today, more committed than ever to finishing this fight," O'Dowd said with conviction, his eyes swelling with tears. "We didn't start it. We will finish it," he said.

(Staff Sgt. Phillip Witzke is a member of the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Combined Forces Command Afghanistan

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