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Fort Meade Remembers 9/11

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Joel McCord/WYPR
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An American flag flies over the Ft. Meade ceremony

Ceremonies throughout Maryland and the nation marked the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

At Fort Meade, a crowd gathered Friday on the parade ground under a sky as deep blue as the one terrorists flew through to crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that day.

Flags from all 50 states and the US territories formed a backdrop and a huge American flag, hung from the outstretched ladder of a Fort Meade fire truck, waved in the breeze over their heads.

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, whose district includes the army post, said the ceremony took on a special meaning as America’s longest war finally comes to an end.

He praised the service and sacrifice of the nearly 2,500 service men and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan and the 20,000 who were wounded. And he said President Joe Biden made a “gut wrenching” decision to make good on the agreement established by his predecessor.

“To be sure there were poor political decisions made throughout the evacuation of our troops and our allies,” he said. “But never did we question the commitment, bravery, honor of our men and women in uniform and our military leadership.”

Others recalled where they were on Sept. 11, 2001 and the impact the events had on them.

Carrie Krest, a Montgomery County firefighter who was taking a paramedic retraining course, was sitting in a pharmacology lecture when they heard noise in the hallway. Someone said there had been a terrible accident in New York and they turned on the television in time to see the second plane strike.

“We knew right then and there, this was no accident,” she said. “In a place where there was always activity where there was always noise, there was now silence. For me, this was the beginning of some of the darkest days of our careers.”

Since then, she said, “we’ve adapted, we’ve strengthened, and we’ve come together to mourn.”

“But most importantly, we've come together to remember and this we vow to everyone who lost their lives that day, to absolutely never forget.”

Joseph Wassel, then an assistant Secretary of Defense, was in the Pentagon that day, conferring with then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as the first two planes struck their targets.

He went back to his office to start planning; for what, he said, they didn’t know.

“At 9:37 the Pentagon shook and rumbled and roared. And the window of the office I was in shook back and forth in a way that I thought it was going to break.”

Wassel started for Rumsfeld’s office, but ran into the secretary in the hallway and they headed for the crash site.

“And as we turned the corner of the Pentagon, the heat and the visual of the fireball is something I will never forget,” he recalled.

Evil came to the United States that day, he said.

“It came by using our commercial airlines with our innocent citizens on board and attacked the World Trade Center New York, the Pentagon in Washington DC.”

Evil was thwarted, Wassel added, by “the citizen heroes of Flight 93, who no doubt saved countless more innocent lives by putting their freedom ahead of their own interests.”

The passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 stormed the cockpit after the terrorists took over and crashed it into a farm field in Somerset County, Pa.

Wassel said they gathered at Fort Meade today so as to never forget the nearly 3000 who lost their lives in the attacks.

“But they'd be proud of us,” he added. “They'd be glad to know that we're here celebrating their lives. And thinking about their families on this day.”

The ceremony closed with the traditional tolling of a firebell to mark the loss of first responders and a piper playing Amazing Grace.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.