20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks commemorated at SUU

CEDAR CITY — On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a large crowd gathered in Cedar City to pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives that fateful morning.

Attendees listen during program at Southern Utah University commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 10, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Hundreds of people, including many Southern Utah University students, attended the hourlong event on the university’s campus. The program was organized and hosted by the SUU Veterans Resource and Support Center.

The event began with a flyover of 13 SUU Aviation helicopters, with one breaking away from the group in a “missing man” formation.

“We gather here today to bring awareness and pay tribute to a day in our nation’s history that has and continues to impact so many,” John Hohman, a member of the SUU Aviation program and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said during his welcoming remarks.

“Today, as we reflect, please never forget,” Hohman added.

Kealii Shull, a U.S. Navy veteran and president of SUU’s Student Veterans of America chapter, then gave a synopsis of the events that happened on Sept. 11, 2001, when a group of al-Qaeda hijackers commandeered four jet airliners and deliberately crashed two of them into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. The fourth plane ended up crashing into a field in Pennsylvania, thanks to the heroic actions of passengers on board who fought with the hijackers for control of the aircraft.

“All of these tragic events occurred in just under two hours,” Shull said. “Thousands of people who woke up that morning were planning to go about their day as usual, and then died within just a couple hours of waking up.”

John Hohman gives welcoming remarks during a program at Southern Utah University commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 10, 2021. Pictured behind Hohman are (L-R) featured program speakers Ken Carpenter, Mike Phillips and Erik Kjellgren. | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Presidents since the attacks have implemented acts and legislation to aid survivors, families and first responders who were affected by the events that unfolded on our nation that day,” Shull added. “9/11 was the largest terrorist attack on our country and a left a huge and unforgettable scar behind. Our nation will never forget.”

Shull’s remarks were then followed by short talks by each of the program’s three featured speakers: Cedar City Fire Chief Mike Phillips, Iron County Sheriff Ken Carpenter and Erik Kjellgren, who is an SUU Aviation student and a retired U.S. Navy commander.

Kjellgren said he was attending flight school at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida when 9/11 happened.

“Being American is about being brave and being willing to help those who need it, even at great personal cost,” he said. “And that is what the first responders and those who served in the military thereafter represent and embody.”

Kjellgren noted that over the past 20 years, there have been “countless” stories of heroism from Iraq and Afghanistan, and went on to share several examples.

“I would ask that all of you take time this weekend to think about this event and all of the other heroic stories that came out of 9/11,” he said. “Humans are remarkable and can accomplish incredible feats. And everyone here can, too. I would also ask that you think about what you can do to support our great city, university, state, country and planet.”

Phillips noted how Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 “started out like any regular day, but would not stay that way.”

“Soon, it would be indelibly etched into my memory,” he said. “A day that I would never forget.”

Phillips said he had been peeling pears with his wife that morning when he got a phone call from then-Cedar City Fire Chief Clint Neilsen telling him to turn on his TV.

Cedar City Fire Chief Mike Phillips speaks during a program at Southern Utah University commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 10, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“I thought to myself, ‘Why would a little plane crash into the World Trade Center?'” Phillips recalled. “So I went and turned on the television and within minutes, I witnessed the second plane crashing into the South Tower. It was not a little plane. It was a huge jetliner. I knew in that moment that this was not an accident, but an intentional attack on our country.”

Later in his speech, Phillips then held up a bright green personal alert safety system (PASS) device and said he recalled hearing such devices beeping loudly in the background when he watched news accounts from the scene in New York City later that day.

“This is the sound that you could hear going off,” he said. “Dozens and dozens of PASS devices laying on the ground. I knew what that sound was, and I knew what that sound meant. It meant there was firefighters on the ground, no longer moving. They’d perished in the attacks.”

“I remember a nation united days following the 9/11 attacks,” Phillips added. “It didn’t matter your political affiliation. It didn’t matter what religion you were — you’re an American and you’re grieving for your country.”

Phillips said that even though that day is considered one of the worst days in America’s history, it also brought out some of the bravest acts.

“We will always honor those that served on 9/11 and we pledge to never forget their sacrifice,” he said. “On this day, we remember the innocent lives that were lost there and we pay tribute to those who gave their lives so many others may live.”

Carpenter, a U.S. Marine veteran, recalled how he had been stationed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego on 9/11.

Iron County Sheriff Ken Carpenter speaks during a program at Southern Utah University commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 10, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“When I returned to MCRD and entered the general’s office, the staff was assembled, we immediately began talking about what we needed to do to protect our installation,” Carpenter recalled. “The first thing we did at that time was just lock everything down. We didn’t know what future threats were there, or what was going to take place. We had a responsibility to protect the lives of many recruits that were there at MCRD. So for the next week, I slept on the couch in my office, stayed there 24 hours a day, to see what we needed to do and to make sure that we were available to do whatever had to be done.”

Carpenter then recounted the story of two Marine infantrymen who opened fire on an approaching suicide truck bomber in Iraq in 2008, saving the lives of many in the nearby barracks.

In the final six seconds of their lives as the explosives-laden truck rapidly approached, CPl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter stood their ground and never wavered, Carpenter said.

“By all reports, and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons.”

Then, just as the final second of their lives ticked away, Carpenter said “the truck explodes, the camera goes blank, and two young men go to their God.”

Joseph Gudmundson performs “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes at the conclusion of a program at Southern Utah University commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 10, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

That six-second span of time that the two Marine guards had to react to the approaching threat was “not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths,” Carpenter noted. “But more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty into eternity.”

“Thank you for allowing me to be with you today, to honor such young men and young women who have sacrificed all that we may live in freedom,” Carpenter said as he concluded his talk. “May we never forget, and may we, like these two young Marines, be Semper Fidelis, always faithful.”

Nick Majher, a U.S. Army veteran who is the president of the SUU chapter of the Student Veterans of America, then explained the significance of the array of flags installed on the grass on the northeast section of the library quad.

Majher said the flags represented the civilians, first responders and service members “who paid the ultimate sacrifice on that influential day, and every day thereafter.”

“We ask that you continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” he said.

At the conclusion of the program, a moment of silence was observed and Joseph Gudmundson performed “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

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