Solemn Reminder: SJAFB pauses to reflect on 9/11

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Michael Charles
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Chief Sean Quinby, 4th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department chief, slowly walks to a small table next to the podium at the front of the room. He grabs the short, but thick, cord hanging down from the chrome bell, which sits centerpiece of the memorial table. He waits for a few seconds before he pulls it.

The bell’s deep and monotone sound echoes throughout the room as he pulls the cord two additional times.

Each onlooker, realizing the meaning of each chime, stares intently at the podium.  Some attendees eventually drop their head in a seemingly deep reflection of its symbolism as the echoing of the bell fades.

Nobody would’ve been able to guess that just 10 minutes prior, the room was filled with conversations amongst more than 200 individuals in attendance about various topics of the installation’s daily activities. Now, each attendee’s focus has transformed into a seriousness that you would expect from the weight of the day. 

As the room returns to silence, each member’s eyes remain fixated on the bell, which reads “Never Forget 9/11”.

The bell represents the firefighters that lost their lives on 9/11 in an effort to save as many people as possible from the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. It also indicated the “reflection” portion of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base’s 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on September 11, 2019, at the base’s main fire department. 

“On this day, we unite together as Americans, to remember the heroes of one of the most tragic events in a generation, said Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Cooper, 4th Operations Group superintendent. “It’s times like this, that each of us comes together and reflect on the reason we took the oath of enlistment.”

The ceremony marked the 18th anniversary of the events of 9/11, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 American citizens. It’s introduction, consisted of an honor guard utilizing firefighters and defenders assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing.  

“Today we recognize those who, despite the danger, selflessly made the ultimate sacrifice, so they could save the lives of strangers, Chief Quinby said. “Where we are today is a testament to the courage of these individuals and the strength of our nation.”

A slideshow highlighting the events from the day was also shared along with personal testimonials by Col Donn Yates, the 4 FW commander, Maj. Marc Stanco, the 4th Security Forces commander and Chief Quinby; each representing the installation, the defender and the firefighter communities respectively.

During the testimonial portion, Col. Yates explained how Team Seymour and the Air Force continues to embody the warrior spirit exemplified on that day.   

“The events that happened 18 years ago are still having an effect on all of us to this day,” Col. Yates said. “As military members, we carry these memories with us every time we conduct operations.”

Chief Quinby also emphasized that unlike many years past; there were members in attendance as part of the U.S. Air Force who don’t actually remember the events of that day.

“Many of our U.S. Air Force members and our firefighters were in daycare or elementary school during 9/11,” he stated. “It is our job to make sure their brave actions are not forgotten as time goes on. We also need to remind those who come after, that their selflessness and the subsequent actions from the events of that day have molded the military into the one we recognize now.”

Chief Cooper would go on to echo those sentiments.

“We are now witnessing a generation of Airmen that were not born during the 9/11 attacks,” Chief Cooper said. Many Airmen did not personally see the towers fall on that morning or get the alerts, yet, they continue to proudly serve.  Our daily actions embody the spirit of being an American as demonstrated by those who acted on that day. Now, it’s up to each of us who serve to carry on that legacy through our Air Force core values of “integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.”

During the latter part of the ceremony, a 21-gun salute was given to honor the 343 firefighters and 60 police officers who were killed in the attacks and the more than 5,000 military members that have given their lives in military operations since. 

“No matter where you go there are people who recognize the great sacrifice of those in our military who have given their lives in support of the operations since 9/11,” Col Yates explained. "We continue to honor their tremendous sacrifices and will continue do so forever.”

The ceremony concluded at exactly 9:11 a.m., a final tribute to the significance to the day.

As attendees exited the room, there was a noticeable inflection of conversation. There was a noticeable change in the tone of the topics being discussed. What were once conversations about what to expect from the rest of the week, has changed to a reflection of the day and a renewed sense of patriotism from some of our nation’s finest heroes.