On the 17th anniversary of the attacks that shook the country and changed the course of history, the weather was reminiscent of the same clear, balmy conditions on Sept. 11, 2001, and the same day of the week.
The solemn and haunting sound of Echo Taps carried through the grounds of Memorial Field at the Rock Island Arsenal on Tuesday as more than 200 people gathered to honor the memory of those killed in the terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 2,977 people.
Buglers Tracy Hepner and Bill Sterba stood apart from one another as Sterba echoed Hepner's melody following the booms of cannons and the 21-gun salute that ended a moment of silence.
It was a moving and emotional ceremony that began with the singing of the national anthem by the sixth-grade class from All Saints Catholic School in Davenport.
Keynote speaker retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason said Sept. 11, 2001, is forever etched in the nation’s collective consciousness.
"I am both honored and solemn to be here today as we think back on that terrible day, Sept. 11, 2001, on a day close to this weather," Mason said. "From the moment the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., until the second tower fell at 10:28 a.m., that is a span of 102 minutes of unimaginable horror.
"The world is a far different place than it was on that clear, September morning. But one thing has not changed, and that is the strength and goodness of the American people. We will never forget, and we will always stand against tyranny and defend our values and way of life. Our spirit and love of country is strengthened."
Gold Star families sat surrounded by loved ones, facing the 9/11 memorial — brick column replicas of the twin towers and a pentagon-shaped stone. A single firefighter's helmet and police officer's hat sat atop each of the pillars, set in place by Rock Island Arsenal Fire Department Capt. Darin Keith and Rock Island Arsenal police officer Jason Miller.
Also in attendance was a large group of U.S. Army officers, soldiers, community leaders and local politicians, including U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline; U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City; Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch; and Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher.
Bustos said in September 2001, she was a journalist at the Quad-City Times. She received a call that morning from her husband, Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos, who told her to quickly find a television.
"It was our generation's Pearl Harbor," Bustos said. "Despite all of the destruction and lives lost on that day, I also remember how we reacted. In the following days and weeks, we came together as Americans.
"We mourned together and resolved to bring responsibility and justice. This is really the true spirit of America. It is truly who we are, and it's who we can be when we overcome our divisions and remember that we are one people. As we bow our head and remember the 2,977 men, women and children who never lived to see this day, let's honor their memory by being the Americans and the America that they deserve."
Since its dedication on Sept. 11, 2012 — the 11th anniversary of the attacks — the 9/11 memorial on the Arsenal has been illuminated every evening, "in memory of those who perished and those who continue to lay their lives down on the mantel of freedom," narrator Greg Wilson, public affairs officer with the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, said.
Prior to the ceremony, soldiers and civilians participated in a 2.5 mile memorial walk, carrying small flags representing all 2,977 lives lost that day in New York City, Washington, D.C., and on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Referring to the flags planted in the ground at the memorial, Mason said, "They are just cloth and a stick, but each one of them represents a life that had hopes, had desires, and had loved ones. We should dedicate ourselves in their memory.
"While this day is rightly about remembering those we lost on 9/11, let us also use this day to rededicate ourselves to each other and to the principles this nation was founded on, and to continue to provide a beacon of hope, now and into the future."