The clang of the bell rang out along the parade field on Fort George G. Meade.
Deputy Chief James Evans, with Fort Meade’s fire company, struck the bell five times in a row, then another five times.
The sound of a bell has steep traditions within fire companies. Today, it symbolized the sacrifice of the first responders and the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
Saturday will mark 20 years since hijackers took control of four planes, crashing two into the twin towers in New York and one into the Pentagon. A fourth, headed for D.C., crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers of flight United 93 fought back.
It’s a day that shaped many careers, said Col. Christopher Nyland, garrison commander at Fort Meade. His included.
The first responders, true to their name, arrived on the scene, some paying the ultimate sacrifice. Then the military took up the mantle, Nyland said, referencing the past 20 years of the country’s presence in Afghanistan.
“On America’s worst days, the real stories are about the people,” Nyland said. “The heroism that emerges as our fellow Americans come forward and risk and sacrifice for those around them. Ordinary Americans who demonstrate extraordinary courage. Today is about remembering them.”
Every generation has a moment where they remember where they were, said Fort George G. Meade Acting Police Chief Jeremiah Irvin. For the older generations, that is Pearl Harbor. For many, it is Sept. 11.
It has been 20 years, and there are people who are enlisting, who are voting who were born after the attacks, he said. Others are too young to remember.
“What is a memory for many of us is a history lesson for them,” Irvin said.
Coming together to remember the attack each year is how people never forget, he said.
It can be hard to think of Sept. 11 as a historical event, County Executive Steuart Pittman said. In many ways, the day feels as if it happened recently.
But it has been 20 years, and it is important to start thinking about it as part of history and understand how it affected the country. For some, it was the spurring action that encouraged them to enlist.
At Fort Meade, it transformed what was a small base into a hub of cybersecurity activity with the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger said.
Fort Meade personnel were involved in the past 20 years of conflict, from those working at NSA to those in the combat camera unit, Ruppersberger said. Some deployed to Afghanistan or other areas in the Middle East.
This year’s anniversary comes as the final troops have left Afghanistan, ending the country’s longest war, Ruppersberger said.
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Joseph Wassel, executive for cyberspace operations directorate, Defense Information Systems Agency, was at the Pentagon when the plane struck. He was serving under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
He’ll never forget the heat coming from the fireball that resulted from the plane crashing through the side of the Pentagon, he said.
He tried to assist a woman he believes to be Ada Davis onto a stretcher. Davis later died from her injuries.
While he remembers the events of the actual day, Wassel also recalls the unity and the sense of community shared by the country in the days following.
“Things seem to be a little friendlier,” he said. “People might have hugged a little longer, and they showed their care on their sleeves. And I think that’s OK.”
The national resilience the country showed is a powerful reminder, he said. As someone focused on information, Wassel said it is important to continue to share about Sept. 11 and lessons learned so the country does not forget and it does not see another Sept. 11.
“I wonder if we had shared information on the 10th the way we shared information on the 12th, could we have prevented the 11th?” Wassel said. “That’s what drives me every day as a senior communicator in the Defense Information Systems Agency to connect and inform the warfighter and our senior decision makers to protect this terrific country.”