Winnefeld: Events of 9/11 Remain ‘Frozen In Time’
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 11, 2012 Eleven years after the fateful Tuesday morning that transformed thousands of people into heroes, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reminded 9/11 remembrance ceremony attendees gathered in the Pentagon’s center courtyard why the war against terrorism is “personal.”
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. lauded civilians, service members, and first responders, many of whom risked all to save others’ lives during the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
“You suddenly found yourselves on the front lines against the war against terrorism, wondering for hours whether or not this was the first in a series of attacks,” Winnefeld said to Pentagon attack survivors. “As [Defense] Secretary [Leon E.] Panetta said, some of you did what Americans do so often -- literally running into the fire to try to save our comrades.”
The admiral spoke of the 125 members of the “Pentagon family” who perished along with 59 passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 77 at 9:37 a.m. that day.
“The events of that tragic morning will be forever frozen in time for us,” Winnefeld said. “Each of us will always remember where we were and how we felt that morning.”
Winnefeld noted enduring reminders of Sept. 11, 2001: the smell of the crash weeks later in the building’s corridors, and the ensuing “remarkable reconstruction effort” over the course of a single year.
Perhaps the most notable mark, however, is literally etched into the building’s history, with the construction of the Pentagon Memorial four years ago today, he said.
Rebuilding and recovery efforts, Winnefeld said, were all cemented by the “determination and events like this one to ‘never forget.’”
“It was suddenly and abundantly clear that this would change everything literally overnight,” he said.
The admiral shared a personal account of his experience on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was returning from the Arabian Gulf aboard the USS Enterprise. He joined the nation watching in horror as thousands met their demise.
“It was a gut-wrenching, sickening experience,” Winnefeld said.
By the next morning, he was already on station off the coast of Pakistan, ready for battle, he added.
“I remember thinking for the first time that I was safer on a ship at sea than my family was at home,” Winnefeld said. “Those of us who were deployed at the time relied as we always do on the strength of our families.”
Winnefeld said that night, he reminded his crew of the last time America went to war following a homeland attack -- almost exactly 60 years prior when the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The admiral also recounted what he considers to be the “first heroes” of the nation’s current war, from the 17 sailors who died aboard USS Cole, to the people who died trying to thwart hijackers in Pennsylvania and those who worked tirelessly to look for survivors, and comfort affected families.
Following the 9/11 attacks, America’s service members stepped up to fight the terrorists in far-flung locales across the globe.
“Many of our own sons and daughters became part of the next greatest generation, taking the oath of office in the face of this threat,” Winnefeld said. “Many of them have lost life or limb or suffered an unseen injury in the service of our nation.”
Still, he said, the will and the strength of the American people remain unshakeable.
“Each of you, military and civilian, has chosen to stand on the wall in defense of our great nation as we look ahead to new and uncertain challenges in this war and other potential conflicts,” Winnefeld said. “It’s comforting to know that you understand the price of freedom and that you continue to work so hard to support those who are out there forward where the front lines should be.”