9/11’s 20th Anniversary at Great Falls Freedom Memorial

9/11’s 20th Anniversary at Great Falls Freedom Memorial

— On the benchmark day of the 20th anniversary of remembering 9/11, the people of Great Falls gather. They hear what has become a heartbreaking tradition, sounds of twenty years ago. An audio clip of several different recordings plays over the loudspeakers. "To bring back the memory," says Andy Wilson, president of the Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial.

The voices of multiple traffic controllers are heard. Mostly staying clear and calm, they transmit the final calls to assist aircraft in crisis. Sliced into the mix are the sounds of jet engines developing thrust. Cries in the cabins, words of fear, and words of hope play. "You are not going to die." Messages left on answering machines by passengers and crew, private comments to family members say, "I love you." The word hope is heard. The audio clip loops again and again.

Pastor Dave Zucuchelli (Ret.), Smith Chapel United Methodist Church in Great Falls, gives the Invocation. Like so many other invocations heard at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial, it carries the same message but in other eloquent words. "Those who have died…will be those whose memories keep us moving forward. We pray for strength, and above all, we pray for love."

Scout Troop 55 presents the colors during the program and leads the Pledge of Allegiance. Those gathered remain standing as the Langley High School Madrigals, under the direction of Dr. Mac Lambert, Langley's choral director, sing the national anthem. Next, Wilson introduces Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34). And, finally, before keynote speaker LTG (R) John R. "Bob" Wood speaks, piper MacPhearson Strassberg plays "Amazing Grace." According to Wilson, MacPhearson learned to play the bagpipes during the COVID shutdown.

WOOD’S DAUGHTER called him at the Pentagon, concerned about his safety after learning planes struck the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. He says, "With a father's patience and reassurance, I calmed her with mock bravado. ‘Keep your head down,’ I said. As I hung up the phone, American flight 77 crushed my office." Black smoke filled his office and lungs; bright orange flames lapped at the windows, and his office door was jammed shut. With help, he gets out, and teamwork and training kicks in.

They rush out through old bus tunnels under the Pentagon to escape a possible second strike from a reported inbound airplane that was United flight 93.

"Little did we know, America's longest war had begun," he says.

Wood tells of a draft document, a strategic plan for the army called the Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review. "It's a report to Congress that compares the defense strategy with resourcing needs, a scorecard, and a game plan for defending our nation,” he says.

"My two staff members who died in 9/11, it was their professional work, and the analysis I was reviewing was to be published 30 September, just several weeks after that. And in that draft document, it contained virtually nothing about the threat of terrorism to the homeland. A hasty fix was ordered," Wood says. "Peace demands strength, but it also demands unity," Wood says. "It's apparent our forefathers had it right. United we stand, divided we fall."

Wilson reads the Great Falls 9/11 Honor Roll. After each name, Sara Hilgartner rings the bell.

1st Lt. Richard P. Gabriel, USMC, Ret.

Lisa J. Raines

Diane M. Simmons

George W. Simmons

Ann C. Judge

Barbara K. Olson.

Michael Fox, bugler, and founder of Bugles Across America, concludes the 9/11 Ceremony, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, sounding Taps.