Camp Leatherneck Commemorates 9/11 Anniversary
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2011 Of all the events that took place when terrorists attacked the United States 10 years ago, the best memories are those of the heroes who stood up to protect America’s freedom, the commander of Regional Command Southwest said at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, today.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., who also commands the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, spoke to troops from a wooden stage on a cloudless late afternoon in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
“I really choose not to remember the barbaric acts of the al-Qaida terrorists who were trained right here in Afghanistan,” Toolan said.
Damage done to the twin towers in New York City and to the Pentagon in Washington is not what he chooses to remember, he said.
“What I choose to remember on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 are all the heroes who have stepped up to protect what we cherish very dearly -- our freedom,” the general said.
In a brief ceremony at the 1,600-acre Marine Corps base, service members said prayers, read poetry and sang songs in remembrance of the heroes of 9/11 and those of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the commemoration, a service member read a timeline of the events of 9/11. Each time she read of a plane crashing into a building or a tower collapsing, a bell tolled and those in the audience observed a moment of silence for the fallen.
“I remember when I heard on the radio about this individual called Todd Beamer who declared, ‘Let’s roll’ as he and a few other gutsy heroes took down the Flight 93 terrorists. … Those are the kinds of Americans I choose to remember,” Toolan said.
The general said he also remembers then-President George W. Bush, who “never cowered” and promised the nation would respond to the attacks.
"Make no mistake,” President George W. Bush said on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, in a message to the nation, “the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.”
A few days ago in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Toolan said, he noticed people cleaning a statue -- a monument to an individual named Ahmad Shah Massoud.
“He’s an Afghan national hero, one who stood up against the Taliban and al-Qaida and was eventually killed,” the general said. “He was killed two days before the 9/11 event. He was attacked by suicide bombers -- two Arabs posing as journalists. They [knew] that he had warned the United States that a potential major attack was planned on our home territory. He’s a hero, and I choose to remember him today.” Hundreds of thousands attended his funeral, the general added, and today Afghans hold him up as a hero.
Toolan, who is from New York, said he heard after the 9/11 attacks about heroic acts performed by many of the people with whom he grew up.
“It reinforced my faith in America,” he said. “Friends who were stockbrokers, firefighters, cops, bartenders -- a lot of those -- they all had stories of incredible heroism. When I listened to their stories … about what they had done, I said, ‘You’re doggone heroes. You should join the Corps.’”
The general added, “I know many of you standing out there right now had family and friends who gave their last full measure.”
Among those gathered for the commemoration today, he said, was “a young sergeant who enlisted after losing both his brothers in New York City in the towers. Or a gentleman named Simon Turner, who’s a friend of one of our British officers. Or Chris Hamilton, who lost his brother-in-law Bill Kelly. And Maj. Clark’s Uncle Manny.
“This is who we choose to remember because this is who we are,” Toolan added. “This is what America is made of: … millions of rawboned freedom fighters, [millions of] fire-breathing freedom fighters.”
During the past 10 years, the U.S. military forces and their coalition partners have demonstrated incredible heroism, the general said, naming a handful of recent Medal of Honor recipients. They include Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, Marine Corps Cpl. Jason Dunham, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, Army Pfc. Ross McGinnis, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer, who will receive the honor from President Barack Obama on Sept. 15.
“My inspiration on 9/11 comes from the spirit of those who stepped into the breach,” Toolan said. “People like you, who make me want to shout your names out to the terror merchants who try and deny us our freedom.
“It is really all of you out there today I choose to remember,” the general added, “now and in the future.”