Ceremony reminds us to ‘never forget’ 9/11, those who served



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An aerial view shows the 9/11 ceremony held Sept. 11 at the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center’s 9/11 Monument in the plaza.

SENIOR LIFE Courtesy of TVPHOTO.com’s Roger Scruggs, AV8RTV

Never forget.

That was the message from many guest speakers during the Patriot Day ceremony held Sept. 11 at the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center behind the Merritt Square Mall.

“We tried to do something to remember not only those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, but also those young American men and women who sacrificed so much to take the fight to the enemy weeks later,” said Donn Weaver, chairman of the Brevard Veterans Council and VMC vice president and special projects coordinator.

About 135 people attended the two-hour ceremony which began at the 9/11 Monument in the plaza and ended with guest speakers addressing the audience in Gray Hall.

Speakers included Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey; Cape Canaveral Commission chairman and retired U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Wayne Justice, and Bill Wilkening, who was working inside the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) headquarters during 9/11.

Other speakers included those who were in New York City or at the Pentagon that day in 2001 as well as those who served in the military following the 9/11 attacks.

Weaver said the center did not want to compete with other organizations that held 9/11 ceremonies, rather they decided to host their event after school to encourage young people to attend.

“We wanted to honor not only the victims and those first responders who rushed to help those injured, but also to the young men and women who joined the military and ran to the fight against our enemies that were responsible for that attack.” Weaver said.

Justice, who was at the Pentagon the day of the attack and grew up on Staten Island, vividly remembers the events surrounding that horrific day.

“I was on active duty at the time with the U.S. Coast Guard and was inside the Pentagon when the plane hit,” he said. “After the attacks, my job was to coordinate the evacuation of more than 500,000 people from lower Manhattan. We had to call in all available ships and boats to get them out.”

Since 9/11, Justice told the crowd that the country is more secure now and can handle any threat, but said we must not let our guard down and be ready to handle all future threats.

“We still have heroes and first responders that will do whatever they are asked to do,” he said. “I believe in accountability. All our first responders deserve our support.”

Wilkening, one of the center’s library volunteers, was working inside the FAA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. during 9/11. He recalls how “chaotic” it was inside the FAA’s command center.

“I remember when we first heard the words from the American Airlines Center in Dallas that one of its flight attendants said that their plane was being hijacked,” Wilkening said.

Wilkening, who retired five years ago from the FAA and now lives in Indian Harbour Beach, said officials first thought that it was a “false or mistaken” hijacking report.

“We later learned the report was true,” he said. “It was so chaotic after that. We didn’t have enough people to man all the computers in the command center.”

October will mark the 17th year since U.S. forces took the fight to the planning and staging bases in Afghanistan.

While not formally declared, the fight in Afghanistan already is the longest war in American history, and more than 1.3 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces have served there and in Iraq in the battle against terrorism.

Weaver said the center plans on hosting a 9/11 ceremony every year.

“We are going to make sure we never forget in Brevard County,” he said. “We are very proud of what our veterans have done since 9/11. Their work has been outstanding.”

The ceremony was co-sponsored by the VMC and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

For more information, contact the VMC at 321-453-1776 or go to veteransmemorialcenter.org