DOVER — Speaking at the 9/11 memorial at Dover Air Force Base’s Air Mobility Command Museum on Tuesday keynote speaker Dr. Ben Carson — former neurosurgeon and current U. S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development — pushed a message of unity.
“We lost nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11 seventeen years ago, but the psychological impact is far greater,” Dr. Carson said to several hundred service members and well-wishers.
“We remember those who perished that day and those first responders who rushed into the buildings to find people. We also remember those who joined the battle against terrorism, many of whom returned to this very sacred ground at Dover Air Force Base having given everything — including their lives — for the defense of our nation.
“Let’s hold on to the memory that day 17 years ago where we became one. Remember the unity that existed in our country that day regardless of race, politics or national origin for that moment and the following weeks and months we stood as one.”
Alluding to the current political atmosphere, Dr. Carson said divisive forces are coming from outside the country.
“The real American spirit is not the people who are trying to divide us and destroy us,” he said. “I don’t believe for one second that all this hatred and division that’s going on in our country is coming from inside.
“I think there are outside forces who are trying to divide us. They know that a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks killed 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 others as hijacked jetliners slammed into the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C. and another crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Tuesday’s memorial event unfolded in the morning fog beneath the shade of a large United States flag tethered between two ladder trucks at the AMC Museum’s 9/11 memorial site. The site features two pieces of steel from World Trade Center tower one, a rock from the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site and a block from the damaged portion of the Pentagon.
The event, hosted by DAFB’s Fire Emergency Services, included the base’s Honor Guard, a recitation of A.W. Linn’s “A Fireman’s Prayer,” a history on rendering final honors and a wreath laying.
Before the base’s fire service personnel rung their ceremonial bell for the civilians and first responders who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack, it was explained that the tradition dates back to 1865. Originating in New York City firehouses, the tradition of “ringing out the four fives” continues today.
Before modern communication techniques, fire houses used to exchange announcements and alarms through the ringing of bells, the signal to mark the line-of-duty death of a firefighter or death of an official was five individual bell strikes in four sets.
As 9/11 speakers often do, Dr. Carson recalled where he was upon hearing the news of the terrorist attack in 2001.
“That day forever changed us — the startling images of 9/11 are with each of us — no one can forget where they were or what they were doing that day,” he said. “I remember that I was in the operating room finishing up a case and people were starting to talk about some tragedy that had occurred.
“They said a plane had crashed into the world trade center. I was thinking some pilot had lost his way, but when found out it was a 767, I knew it was something more. While we were watching, all kinds of speculation and theories floated around, but it really was something that changed us forever.”
Now almost two decades in the past, Dr. Carson believes it’s an American’s responsibility to help keep the memory of the tragic event alive.
“For many Americans, 9/11 is history, not a memory,” he said. “Today’s college students were young children back then. Many of the oldest high school students were toddlers when it happened. Of course, anyone under 17 wasn’t even born. Each passing year we’re faced with the challenge of keeping the memory alive.”