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Somber Ceremony at DHA Headquarters Evokes Vivid Memories of 9/11

Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg bow their heads for the invocation prayer during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, at DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, Sept. 10. Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg bow their heads for the invocation prayer during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, at DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, Sept. 10.

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Vivid memories and somber reflections marked an emotional ceremony at Defense Health Agency headquarters on Friday as the military medical community remembered and honored the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"There are days that we commit ourselves to remembering events that we wish had never happened. September 11th will forever remain one of those awful days for the United States," said DHA Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place during the ceremony at DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.

The ceremony drew a small cadre of military leaders and health care professionals at the event, while hundreds of others from across the Military Health System attended virtually. This year marks 20 years since 2,977 people lost their lives in the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

Place encouraged those in attendance and those watching online not only to remember those lost on that fateful day, but also to remember and take inspiration from the first responders whose selfless efforts likely saved thousands more.

"We need to remember this day, and for many reasons," Place said. "First, to honor those whose lives were cut short, violently and unexpectedly. Individuals who were non-combatants in every sense of the word. Second, the individual stories of heroism and sacrifice that took place that day and need to be told and re-told. Not just for their families and friends, but for each of us. Those stories make us think about our own responsibilities in a crisis and about how 'ready' we are – as individuals and organizations to respond on a moment's notice.

For many in the military medical community, 9/11 resulted in a call to service, including Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jeremy Harness, who is currently assigned to DHA's Administration and Management Directorate.

"We all remember where we were on September 11th, 2001. I was a young man working as a paramedic at the Glen Ellyn Fire Department just west of Chicago, Illinois," recounted Harness. "I remember being glued to the television watching the horrific images of New York being broadcast. Watching in complete bewilderment and confusion, not thinking the images I was seeing could get any worse; just then I saw the second plane hit the south tower."

Harness said he also remembers the outpouring of pride and patriotism in the days that followed – American flags hung on front porches, "United We Stand," bumper stickers on cars – and how the nation seemed to come together as one.

Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Gebo plays taps at the conclusion of a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, at Defense Health Agency headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, Sept. 10.
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Gebo plays taps at the conclusion of a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, at Defense Health Agency headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, Sept. 10 (Photo by: Jacob Moore, MHS Communications).

"I remember joining the Navy, hoping to do my part to keep my Marines safe as we, the U.S. military, took the fight to them," said Harness.

"Now, 20 years later, we as a country continue to be vigilant and adaptable in the fight against terrorism."

One of the military health first responders at the Pentagon was Merwynn Pagdanganan, who worked in the DiLorenzo health clinic at the time.

"It's been 20 years and I still recall every second of every minute of that day," said Pagdanganan, who shared his story as the ceremony's guest speaker. "How did that impact me? I changed. My world changed. My perceptions changed, my value systems changed. I realized that our country changed, and we all have in some manner changed since that day."

Army Master Sgt. Mathew Maxwell, the senior enlisted advisor for DHA's Education and Training directorate, said he had taken the Oath of Enlistment just seven months prior and ended up going to basic training just a month after the attacks.

"September 11th, 2001, changed the course of my life and my career as it did so many others. I remember vividly that day and the details of where I was and how I found out about the attacks,: Maxwell said. "I was scared as a member of the Army, not knowing what came next and not knowing my immediate future."

He said many of the recruits he was in basic training with were actually from New Jersey and New York, the site of the attack on the World Trade Center.

"They watched the towers burn and fall. I heard their first-hand accounts of how it affected them and why they chose to join the Army. I will never forget their accounts and their emotional responses when asked about that day," said Maxwell.

"It has stayed with me throughout my career, and I will never forget."

You can watch the full ceremony here

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