AUGUSTA — Hundreds of military personnel and civilians gathered Wednesday morning at Fort Gordon to recall lives and lessons related to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Dozens of troops, starting Monday morning, took part in a ruck march around the installation's housing and garrison areas, and they brought the around-the-clock march to a close just before 8 a.m., leading to a ceremony held at Signal Towers, one of the installation's most prominent landmarks.
In keeping with tradition, cannons were fired to mark the moments when hijacked passenger airlines struck: 8:46 a.m., at the World Trade Center's north tower; 9:03 a.m., the south tower; 9:37 a.m., the Pentagon; and 10:03 a.m., a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Addressing the gathering was Col. James S. Clifford, Fort Gordon's garrison commander. "We are now almost 18 years into the fight against Al-Qaida, and we will not falter," he said.
"From the caves of Afghanistan to the Sunni triangle in Iraq, the plains of Syria, the deserts of Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and wherever our fight takes us, our nation has pursued our enemies. We could not have done this without the tireless commitment of our coalition partners, several of whom are here today representing the numerous allies that fight with us to ensure this tragedy never happens again."
He added, "We will remain resolute and vigilant across land, air, sea and cyberspace to ensure this tragedy of this scale never happens again on our watch."
Among those taking part in Wednesday's assembly, as Fort Gordon firemen, were Scott Westmoreland, originally from Clover; and Sam Potts, of Canton, Ohio.
Westmoreland recalled the situation that faced "343 firemen that put their gear on, going across the Brooklyn Bridge," to face a nightmarish situation. "It had to be one of those things that they never imagined that they would ever see."
"We're in gear now, but they had hoses on their shoulders and they had tools in their hands and they had an air pack on their back – maybe even an extra bottle in their other hand. It is incredible to think of the will and the bravery of each and every one of those firemen that lost their lives."
Potts made similar comments. "I have the utmost respect for the 343 that walked the last walk … They're brave men, and every Sept. 11th, I think about that."
The thought "instills pride and lights that fire again," he said. "It just makes me want to continue to serve, and every Sept. 11th, I just think about that."
The ruck march, a 48-hour tour (54 Soldiers, in teams of three) of the garrison and housing areas, covered 190 miles in memory of victims from the 2001 attacks.
Sgt. Maj. Joseph Leggett, a native of the Bronx, the event's primary organizer, began the tradition in 2011, while he was based in Korea, and brought the concept to Fort Gordon. The first such local march was held in 2018 (following cancellation of a 2017 plan, due to weather concerns).
"I just knew this event, when we planned it, was the right event to pay homage and reflect on those incidents from back then," Leggett said. "I didn't lose any family members in the attacks itself, but I lost a lot of my military comrades due to the effects of it."
He said he wanted to be sure to have involvement from local firefighters and police officers alike on board for the volunteer event.
Clifford, in addressing the Wednesday assembly, acknowledged "the continued selfless sacrifice of our first responders," and noted that Fort Gordon's first responders "follow in the selfless tradition by those firemen, police and civilians who entered without reservation or hesitation the burning towers to bring comfort and safety to those trapped."
The 2001 attack resulted in almost 3,000 deaths, mostly in connection with the World Trade Center. More than 6,000 other people were injured. Most of those killed were civilians, and the heaviest toll in terms of emergency responders was among firemen, with 343 dying in the World Trade Center calamity.