On Sept. 11, 2001, 2,977 innocent lives were lost. We stand here to pay tribute to them and to the men and women who have lived and died to keep our country safe. … The American spirit was dealt a devastating blow on Sept. 11, 2001, but it was not defeated. In fact, it was made stronger. —Cadet Lewis Swanson
PROVO — A BYU ROTC cadet solemnly recounted the events of 12 years ago Wednesday while stoic cadets took turns laying roses for each of the four aircraft in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The crowd continued to look on in silence while the cadets performed a steady three-volley salute to honor service members who gave up their lives defending the nation.
Earlier Wednesday, cadets delicately raised the flag accompanied by the national anthem and then lowered it to half-staff in remembrance of those killed during the terrorist attacks 12 years ago.
Instead of being lowered Wednesday night, the flag was to remain at half-staff for 24 hours while ROTC members guard the flag — a vigil cadets have kept each year since 9/11. Until Thursday morning, both an Army cadet and an Air Force cadet were to stand watch in 20-minute shifts.
“On Sept. 11, 2001, 2,977 innocent lives were lost,” cadet Lewis Swanson, joint staff board director for the ROTC at BYU, said. “We stand here to pay tribute to them and to the men and women who have lived and died to keep our country safe. The American spirit was dealt a devastating blow on Sept. 11, 2001, but it was not defeated. In fact, it was made stronger.”
Several other 9/11 memorials were held in Utah Wednesday, including the dedication of a Kaysville statue honoring three Utah victims, and a memorial at Dixie State University — where the Army ROTC retired a flag, raised a new one its place and performed a seven-gun salute.
The memorial in Kaysville has been a community-wide and family effort. A youth volunteer group, Youth of Promise, decided to create the tribute to remember the three Utahns who were killed in the terrorist attacks.
Margaret Wahlstrom, a project organizer and relative of two of the victims, said the project took more than a decade because of slow fundraising and the difficulty of finding a site. A group of youths made a presentation to Utah State University and the school donated the land at the Botanical Center, which is now home to the statue of a firefighter holding a small girl, as well as memorial plaques remembering the three victims.
Wahlstrom’s mother-in-law, Mary Alice Wahlstrom, and her sister-in-law, Carolyn Anne Beug, were on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
The memorial also honors Brady Howell, a USU alumnus who was working at the Pentagon and died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into it.
While most Americans didn’t have close family members who were killed, some were still strongly affected by Sept. 11. Jeff Timmons, executive officer for the BYU Army ROTC, supervised the rose-laying ceremony and the precise triple-volley salute. He is a graduate of the BYU ROTC program and has now returned as an instructor after a tour in Afghanistan and a tour in Iraq.
Timmons was 20 years old and serving an LDS mission in Brazil when he looked at a dilapidated cathode-ray TV in a restaurant and saw a black-and-white shot of a plane crashing into a World Trade Center tower. He said the events of Sept. 11 then changed his life forever.
“9/11 happened and I can’t explain the emotions effectively, but I knew it was important for me that I needed to continue to do ROTC at BYU,” Timmons said. “(My) experiences have molded me in ways that I can’t really describe. The hardship that my family has gone through to support the nation’s efforts because of 9/11 has made us who we are.”
The resonating feeling of the day is that Americans need to never forget what happened and continue to stand strong. The memorials around Utah are meant to serve as a reminder.
Trenton Blaire, a cadet from Hurricane, was the commander of the firing party Wednesday. He was in sixth grade on 9/11 and his English teacher gave out journals for the students to record their feelings of the day.
“It’s really cool to look back and see how I really felt about those events,” Blair said. “Those things I remember from when I was a kid helped me make my decision to serve in the military.”
He said his experiences today and thinking about 9/11 help him remember why he is doing what he is doing, but also help others remember an important day in our nation’s history.
“For me, my favorite part about doing things like this is just helping people have more appreciation for the flag because it is a symbol of our country, the values and the freedoms that we enjoy,” Blaire said. “We have the opportunity to help people remember those feelings or those values that they hold to be true.”