Young men and women who were not yet born when our nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, will enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps in the coming years. For those of us who lived through that terrible day, the idea that so much time has passed can be an alarming realization.
Young Americans only know what it's like to live in a nation at war, and they will only come to understand the events that sparked that war through history books. Despite our nation's pledge to "never forget," years have passed, leaving the memory of 9/11 faded for some and nonexistent for others.
Service members continue to fight the War on Terror. However, a generation of United States Marines has already earned its place in history. Marines were among the first responders who ran into those burning towers. They took to the skies above Washington, D.C., in the weeks after the attacks, helping restore peace of mind. And they have deployed by the thousands to fight an evolving enemy on uncertain battlefields.
The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, together with our partners at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, is working quickly to establish a place that tells this chapter of our nation's history through the eyes of Marines.
Patriot Day is our national observance of the unforgettable day that brought down the Twin Towers, left a gaping whole in the Pentagon and took the lives of close to 3,000 people -- but it did not bend our nation's resolve. Our mission at the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation is to preserve and promulgate the history, traditions and culture of the Marine Corps and to tell the history of America through the eyes of Marines, including those who responded to calls for help on 9/11, as well as those who felt called to serve in the follow-on wars.
The loss of fellow Americans and the heroism displayed on 9/11 brought our nation together. At the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, we remember those heroes throughout the Marine Corps Heritage Center's National Museum of the Marine Corps and Semper Fidelis Memorial Park and Chapel. The park, which overlooks the museum and is dedicated to the service of all Marines, is a place of remembrance and reflection and is the home to more than 44 memorials and plaques and where you will find the New York Fire Department 9/11 Memorial.
The memorial pays homage to the 17 Marines who were among the fallen NYFD firefighters at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Two steel beams recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center were used in the monument. One of the beams displays the emblem of the New York City Fire Department, while the other features the eagle, globe and anchor of the Marine Corps. The name of each firefighter is inscribed on a black granite block adjacent to the beams.
The tribute on the Memorial reads:
"On Sept. 11, 2001, 343 brave NYC Firefighters lost their lives in the attack at the World Trade Center. Of them, 17 were United States Marines. This memorial serves to represent their sacrifices that fateful day.
MAY THEY NEVER BE FORGOTTEN!
The steel displayed here is exactly the way it was recovered from the World Trade Center site in the weeks and months of rescue and recovery following the attacks."
Inside the museum, the 117,000-square-foot final construction phase is ready to incorporate the history of the Corps to today. Museum staff is currently fabricating and placing exhibits in the completed space. The Marine F/A-18 from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, that responded to the attack on the Pentagon is in place and on display in the future 9/11 exhibit alongside a piece of the Pentagon and a steel beam from one of the towers of the World Trade Center. In addition to the structural remnants, visitors will see artifact cases, which will be filled with small objects from the Pentagon and from first responders in New York City.
Sept. 11 transformed our country and triggered the War on Terror. As part of commemorating the sacrifice of the Marines who felt called to serve, the final gallery of the museum will tell the story of Afghanistan and Iraq. Visitors will learn about the early days in Afghanistan, including Task Force 58 led by Brig. Gen. James Mattis, now our secretary of Defense.
Marines have often served as the face of our nation to locals in combat zones, and that role is captured near the end of the gallery, where an exhibit will highlight the life of a Marine in Afghanistan and include a shura, a meeting between a company commander and village elders.
Many Americans vividly recount the events that occurred on 9/11 and the difficulty they had in comprehending what unfolded before their eyes -- but they also recount the stories of our nation's first responders running toward danger to help their fellow Americans. The museum holds compelling reminders of those who put their lives on the line that fateful day. On this anniversary of 9/11, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation joins the rest of America in remembering the fallen and honoring their sacrifice.
Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr. USMC (Ret)
President and CEO
Marine Corps Heritage Foundation
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