Rhode Island veterans, residents and legislators gathered at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter Tuesday for the purpose of paying homage to those lost in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Speakers like Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Exeter Town Councilor Francis Maher and RI Treasurer Seth Magaziner all paid tribute to the victims of and first responders to the attacks.
Tim Bessell, administrator of Veterans Memorial Cemetery, was one of the first to speak. Bessel, who entered the military in 1988, was on active duty in Germany when the country was attacked.
“Sept. 11 was a tragic day, a horrible day for our nation–a horrible day for the world. We come together today in honor of those victims of that day, but we also come to remember that that tragedy continues today,” Bessell said. “We still have service men and women in harm’s way today in the global war on terrorism, 17 years later. Who would have thought that, 17 years later, we’d still be battling what happened on Sept. 11.”
“Everybody knows where they were that day,” he continued. “We turned on the TV and watched as the second plane hit and thought, ‘oh, the world is changing.’”
After the events of Sept. 11, Bessel spent the next eight years on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he watched as the world came together to stand up against terrorist attacks.
“When tragic things happen, people come together,” he said. “And that’s what defeats terrorism.”
When Maher spoke, he went into detail about the horror he felt when the reality of the situation began to sink in.
“On Sept. 11, 2001, we had a situation that we looked back on and we all have memory of that terrible day, of where we were and what we were doing. This is my memory,” he said. “I recall being home that day with my three-year-old son as the news flash came over the radio a plane had hit the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan. I instantly turned on the television just as the second plane hit. I knew in that instant, this was no accident, and that the impossible had become a reality.”
“I was in shock, as we all were,” he added.
Fung also said he vividly remembered when the planes struck the Twin Towers in Manhattan.
“Every single one of us across the country, in every single community, have a story,” he said. “So for us, it is so critically important we honor this day for every single life that was touched, that was lost.”
“This is going to be etched in hearts, in our minds, in our memories,” he continued. “And God bless all of our troops that are still fighting and all of our veterans that have served and worn the proud flag of our country, to continue the memory of every single individual that were impacted in our country.”
Magaziner said the attacks on Sept. 11 were a continuation of attacks against the U.S. since the country was founded–an attack on what the country represents.
“We were attacked 17 years ago for the same reason we have been attacked repeatedly throughout our history since the founding of this country: it is because we are a country founded on democracy, on freedom–freedom of speech, freedom of religion, which RI had a special role in establishing,” Magaziner said. “Those bad actors around the world targeted us throughout our history because they see that as a threat. They see our democracy as a threat in places in the world where they do not want democracy–they want totalitarianism.”
“But what they don’t understand and never understood is that in the most difficult times Americans come together,” he continued. “They see our democracy, our diversity–religious diversity, racial diversity–they see that as a weakness that can be exploited against us, but in reality, it is our strength.”