Throughout Virginia and the U.S., people commemorated last Thursday’s 13th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. Locally, Theodore Smith, an 83-year old volunteer with Bugles Across America, did it in his own, special way.
He went to four, different sites and played “Taps” in remembrance of all those who lost their lives that September morning. He began in front of the Fairfax County Government Center in Fair Oaks at exactly 8:46 a.m., the time when American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Next, Smith did the same thing in front of Fairfax Fire Station 40 on West Ox Road. He played at 9:03 a.m., when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower. Said Smith: “This second sounding was chosen to honor all of the heroic police and firefighters who gave their lives that day in order to save hundreds more.”
He then performed “Taps” at Paul VI Catholic High School. He did so at 9:40 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon. “It was to honor the diversity of citizens of all backgrounds that perished that day, and since, from evil terrorism,” he explained.
Finally, Smith played his bugle in front of the flag outside The Woodlands Retirement Community in Fairfax. The residents and guests placed their hands over their hearts while he performed at 10:06 a.m., when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa.
This effort, said Smith, was “to honor all of the courageous passengers whose resistance prevented another possible crash into a vital, Washington, D.C., target, which saved hundreds more lives.”
Afterward, he played “The Star-Spangled Banner” in recognition of the 200th anniversary of its writing by Francis Scott Key. He also chose that selection, he said, “for those who have since sacrificed their lives for the freedoms that we Americans must never take for granted.”
One of those attending the musical tribute at The Woodlands was Del. David Bulova (D-37th). “My father-in-law was in the Pentagon the day it was hit,” he explained. “We lost a lot of great people that day, and I am very happy that Mr. Smith continues to keep their memories alive.”
Smith, who lives at The Woodlands with his wife, Mary Frances, does similar bugle performances each Sept. 11. He’s played both trumpet and bugle for many years and started his 9/11 musical commemoration when they lived in McLean. This was his fifth year doing it.
And as a proud member of Bugles Across America, he and his co-musicians also play at veterans’ funerals and, he said, “Their families appreciate that.”
Smith served in the Coast Guard for two years and the Air Force, five years, and then owned an aerospace consulting firm in McLean before retiring. He and Mary Frances moved to The Woodlands in 2012 and reside in the independent-living section.
“We have a number of ex-military and ex-government personnel here, so they appreciate the 9/11 observance,” he said. “We had a good turnout for this ceremony, and it was nice of David Bulova to come out, too.”
So why does Smith do it, each year? “As we get farther away from 9/11, we need to remind people about it,” he said. “Some people weren’t born, yet, or others were so young then that they barely remember it. So it’s a commemoration and my small contribution.”