To El Brown and Karen Francis, Sept. 11, 2001, was not just a terrible moment in time 11 years ago.
To the women, both military spouses, Sept. 11 was only the beginning.
For Francis it was the start of “a 22-month deployment, with care packages,” she said. Her husband experienced four active duty deployments and her son, one, as members of the National Guard.
“9/11 for us is not just 9/11, it is every single day,” said Francis who volunteers for the nonprofit Blue Star Families, which supports military families left behind when soldiers, sailors and airmen are dispatched to active duty assignments. Brown added that 9/11 changed the face of the military today. Her husband was a student at West Point at the time.
“He knew, as they all did, that upon graduation, they will be deployed,” said Brown also a volunteer for Blue Stars. “It has had broad reaching effects in our families, and especially the children who face multiple deployments.”
Both women became active in efforts to encourage volunteerism and service.
“Every person has a God-given talent you can use to give back,” said Patricia Evans, executive director of Serve DC., part of the Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, which managed the 9/11 day of service at Freedom Plaza in downtown D.C.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray, in remarks at a D.C. observance of the attacks, said 9/11 was “a wake-up call for all of us” that resulted in “increased technology in the District…and increased surveillance” improving the ability to deal with terrorism.
The remarks echoed sentiment voiced throughout the nation 11 years after a coordinated terrorist attack in which jetliners commandeered by terrorists crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa., in what many said was a flight targeting the U.S. Capitol.
President Obama said the country is “safer” now that Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda founder and 9/11 attack architect, has been tracked down and killed.
“Al-Qaeda’s leadership has been devastated, and Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again,” Obama said at the Pentagon Memorial where he and First Lady Michelle Obama joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others Sept. 11 to mark the 184 lives lost at the Pentagon. “Our country is safer and our people are resilient.”
The Obamas observed a moment of silence on the south lawn of the White House before going to the Pentagon. They also visited service members’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery, according to The Associated Press. They moved quietly between rows of graves at Section 60, which contains the remains of the most recent war dead.
Elsewhere in the District, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. took part in a ceremony at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial to honor the 72 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty that day.
“These heroic men and women answered the highest calling of their profession, placing the safety of others above their own,” said Holder who led a reading of the names of the 72 officers. “Put simply, their selfless actions saved countless lives.”
Nationally, the names of the 2,793 persons who perished in the World Trade Center attack were read at a ceremony at what is now known as Ground Zero in Manhattan. Vice President Joe Biden spoke after the observance of six moments of silence—one each for the times when the planes struck the towers, one each for when each tower collapsed, one for when the Pentagon was struck and one for when Flight 93, the last of the planes in the coordinated attack, slammed into a field in Shanksville, Pa.
In Chicago, Ill, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney shook hands with firefighters at Chicago's O'Hare Airport while he was on his way to Nevada to address the National Guard, whose members deployed after the attacks. Both Obama and Romney briefly paused their campaigns that day.
In the Baltimore area, 9/11 observances were subdued, according to the Baltimore Sun. Volunteer firefighters and community groups held a tribute on the Route 152 overpass at Interstate 95 in Harford County, while in Baltimore County, small American flags were planted for each victim. At the Inner Harbor where a 22-foot-long piece of mangled steel—part of the columns salvaged from the North Tower— sits atop the white marble base, visitors left flowers and miniature American flags.
Meanwhile, families and loved ones of the 9/11 victims continue to wrestle with their loss.
Columbia, Md., resident John Milton Wesley, a 63-year-old former journalist and author, for example, lost his fiancé, Sarah Miller Clarke in the flight that hit the Pentagon. She was a teacher at the now-closed Bertie Backus Middle School. The school was a victim of budget cuts.
“Sarah and I were very close,” said Wesley who was at the District’s Freedom Plaza memorial. “After she died, I asked her rhetorically, ‘What can I complete for you?’” He turned to service—helping her church and working with Backus families who tried to avert closing the school while mentoring students there.
“She was just at her peak, and she was taken away from me,” said Wesley, adding he did not know what he could have done with all that love brimming from within him.