ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
A feeling of sorrow and the echo of slow, steady footsteps filled Wings of Freedom Park as two 97th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters and two 97th Security Forces Squadron defenders posted the colors. Shortly after, hundreds of Airmen, civilians, family members, and others somberly hung their heads and closed their eyes during the recitation of the Police Officer’s, Paramedic’s and Firefighter’s Prayers. For some, the self-sacrificial tenor of these prayers hit close to home, while others simply listened on with reflective empathy.
Two decades have passed since the tragedy struck. Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of terrorists launching coordinated attacks against the U.S. by crashing commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a grassy field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
On the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, the 97th Air Mobility Wing gathered to remember the lives lost and honor the bravery and sacrifice of both ordinary citizens and first responders whose heroic actions remain an inspiration for the generations of today and tomorrow.
With a somber look, Col. Blaine Baker, 97th AMW commander, addressed those in attendance.
“As we reflect today, I choose to be proud of the efforts of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines,” he said. “May we forever remember and revere all who died in those attacks, and all who gave their lives in defense of this great nation and the first responders, firefighters, police officers and medics who responded on that day.”
During the ceremony, for the first time in the 97th AMW’s history, all three of the base's aircraft, the C-17 Globemaster III, KC-135 Stratotanker, and KC-46 Pegasus, flew in formation over the ceremony to honor those lost.
“They will fly in a stacked formation, symbolizing the unity and connectedness of the American people in the aftermath of the attacks,” Baker said. “They will fly with precision, at the exact time the first aircraft hit the first tower. But, instead of sewing terror and despair, these aircraft will radiate the virtues of freedom, liberty and justice. They will fly with pride, demonstrating the might and majesty of American airpower and representing America's indomitable spirit. These aircraft represent a poignant, powerful tribute to every victim, first responder and service member who has given their life in service to our country during and after September 11, 2001.”
After the flyover, an Airman performed the Last Alarm Ceremony, a fire service tradition dating back to the 1800’s. Before modern technology, daily announcements were sent from headquarters to the firehouse by a system of bell commands and telegraph.
When a firefighter died in the line of duty, headquarters would transmit five bell strikes repeatedly in four series. This custom has continued through the years, and is known today as a form of rendering final honors to departed comrades. In the fire service, it’s known as “Striking the Four Fives.”
“The saying, ‘we’ll never forget’ is really significant to me,” said Tech. Sgt. Marshall Boykin, 97th CES battalion chief. “As a military member, 9/11 was heartbreaking because our country was under attack. As a firefighter, it was heavy because we all live by the same promise: to risk our life to save someone else’s at the drop of a hat. The firefighters who responded that day knew they had a job to do. They couldn’t think about their own families or lives, their main focus was saving others. They ran into those buildings knowing they might never come out again. Their sacrifice is why we’ll never forget.”
Tears welled in the eyes of some as “Amazing Grace” played, concluding the ceremony. Shortly after, everyone in attendance was invited to participate in the base’s annual 9/11 Run to Remember.
In addition to the ceremony held on Sept. 11, the 97th Training Squadron held a remembrance ceremony on Sept. 10 to educate younger generations of Airmen on the significance and impact of 9/11.
“Although today is a solemn and somber occasion, it's important to also remember that we have a lot to be proud of,” Baker said. “We will always, always honor the legacy of the heroes of September 11th. May they rest in peace, and may we remember them for the true patriots they are on this sacred day.”