IT WAS a day that changed the world.
Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, servicemen and women at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath held ceremonies to remember the fallen.
Flanked by airfield and civilian fire engines, they gathered last Friday for services both simple and touching, evoking the awful memory of what so many saw unfold on television across the world. As Chaplain Phillip Kaim recalled in his opening words at RAF Mildenhall: “We watched in horror as so many people perished.”
At 8.46am – the time the first plane struck the World Trade Center’s North tower – people congregated in the heart of RAF Mildenhall’s residential area, where two tall leylandii trees have been trimmed to the shape of the twin towers and the surrounding hedge is a pentagon. At both sites, a fireman’s fire fighting helmet and kit and an inverted rifle topped with a soldier’s helmet were displayed to represent fallen comrades.
Wing Commander Christopher Kulas, commander of 100 Air Refuelling Wing based at RAF Mildenhall, said: “We will never forget the images of the planes crashing into the twin towers and the smoke curling up from the Pentagon. Or the people of flight 93 who died when their plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.”
He also remembered the people who have died since in terrorist attacks, including in London, Bali and Mumbai, and added: “We must remain resilient to show that we’re stronger than the fear the terrorists inflicted on us.”
This sentiment was echoed by Col John Quintas, 48th Fighter Wing Commander at RAF Lakenheath. He said: “For all military forces, it is important for us to honour not only those we lost on 9/11, but those who have been lost in the decade since.”
At Mildenhall, a minute’s silence was held and preschool children from the base’s Child Development Centre and pupils from Lakenheath Elementary School led the oath of allegiance.
Speaking at Lakenheath, Lt Col Paul Cairney spoke of 9/11’s influence, comparing it to the assassination of JFK and the bombing of Pearl Harbour as being of history-changing importance to a generation.
Lt Col Cairney said: “We know exactly where we were and how we felt at the time. Today is the perfect day to reflect on those thoughts.”
Both sites honoured their respective first responders in the ceremonies, whose number includes fire prevention specialist Sgt Noah Leiter.
Sgt Leiter said: “It’s traditional to have some form of remembrance for the first responders. We wanted to do something different which is why we brought in the fire fighter display.”
Wing Commander Kulas served at Mildenhall before 9/11 and said after the ceremony: “It’s dramatically changed. This part of the base used to be open and from that aspect it changed the character of the base.”