By Jeff Murphy, September 11, 2017
WARRENSBURG, MO – It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you have been living in the
United States since Sept. 11, 2001, chances are you still likely feel the emotional
impact that has stirred the nation since the worst act of terrorism to ever occur
on American soil. This includes university students, according to Brig. Gen. John
Nichols, guest speaker at the 2017 Patriot Day on the University of Central Missouri
Nichols, a veteran combat pilot who serves as commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, spoke on the UCM quadrangle before a crowd of about 150 people. The ceremony was conducted by the university’s Office of Military and Veteran Services, and included participation from representatives of 131st Bomb Wing at Whiteman, a performance by the Lee’s Summit High School Tigers Armed Exhibition Drill Team, Warrensburg and Johnson County first responders, and participation from faculty and staff in the UCM Department of Music and the Department of Military Science and Leadership’s Army ROTC program.
Nichols began his remarks thanking UCM for the relationship that exists between the men, women and families of Whiteman and the university. He noted that the base community looks forward to “growing our partnership to new heights as we move forward in the future. Please know how much we appreciate your kindness and know how much it means that you stand with us, and you stand behind us,” he told the gathering.
The Whiteman leader provided a brief historical look at the events that transpired on this day 16 years ago.
“Some of you here this morning, including a large majority of students enrolled at UCM, were very young when these attacks occurred. That said, the memories of 9/11 and the emotions that are evoked by 9/11 are no less real for you as they are for anyone else,” Nichols said.
“Whether you recall 9/11 directly or indirectly, let me be clear, it was our generation’s Pearl Harbor. No matter your age, these savage, complex attacks against our great country changed our lives. They changed our nation and they changed our world.
“Unbeknownst to us at the time, those changes began at 7:59 a.m. Eastern time when American Airlines Flight 11, a jumbo jet carrying 81 passengers and 11 crew members, departed 14 minutes late from Logan International Airport in Boston, bound for LA (Los Angeles). Five hijackers were onboard. This was the first aircraft of four that would be hijacked that fateful morning.
“Forty-seven minutes later, Flight 11 slammed into the north face of World Trade Center Towner No. 1. At the same exact time, United Airlines Flight 175, was already airborne,” Nichols continued. “Nine crew members operated the plane and onboard were 56 passengers, including five additional hijackers. Seventeen minutes after the first tower was struck, Flight 175 crashed into the south face of World Trade Center Tower No. 2. Parts of the plane, including one of the engines, shot out from the building from its east and its northern sides. Due to the force of the impact those pieces of the plane fell to the ground nearly six blocks away from ground zero. It was clear to everyone that America was now under attack. And the attack was far from over.”
Nichols described other tragedies of the day, including American Airlines Flight 77, which struck the first floor of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., killing 64 people on board and more than 100 people in the nation’s iconic military headquarters. He also talked about how passengers, who learned about the other airplane crashes, bravely rushed the cabin of United Airlines Flight 93 in an attempt to stop four terrorists. Sadly, the heroes of that day were among the 40 passengers who died when the airplane went down in a field in Sommerset County, Pa.
“As we all know both the World Trade Centers collapsed. Both towers eventually fell. Ultimately, 2,977 men, women and children were killed during these attacks. They ranged in age from two years old to 85 years old. Thirty-three were New York City firefighters, 23 were New York City police officers, and 37 were officers of the Port Authority,” Nichols said.
“We’re here to remember, and we are here to celebrate those comrades and those colleagues, those friends and those family members, and all who were lost on Sept. 11. We remember them as heroes and we are right to do so,” he stressed.
“The terrorists attacked our great nation that day because of our way of life. They attacked us because of our liberties. They attacked us because of our freedom. They thought that we would crumble as a nation. They thought that we would be unable to respond and to rally our nation and to rally our world. They were wrong,” Nichols said. “What they did was awaken a sleeping giant.
“As President Bush said the night of the attacks, ‘Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward and freedom will be defended. We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail’”.
Following Nichols’ remarks, local first responders took part in different aspects of the Patriot Day observance. Members of the Warrensburg Fire Department , Johnson County Fire Department, and Whiteman participated in a bell ringing ceremony to honor firefighters who lost their lives in 9/11. Warrensburg Assistant Fire Chief Doyle Oxley, who led that ceremony, also read a firefighter’s prayer, and Warrensburg Police Chief Rich Lockhart read a police officer’s prayer. David Aaberg, professor of music, performed “Taps.” Deborah Curtis, provost-chief learning officer, provided a welcome on behalf of the university, and Lt. Col. Jason Christenson, professor of military science and leadership, provided a moment of reflection, citing the importance of remembering 9/11 and recognizing those who gave their lives in service to their country.