Members of the Fort Drum community gathered Monday in front of the 9/11 memorial outside Clark Hall to honor, recognize and remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, said that no one will forget the moment when they discovered that their nation had been attacked, and he shared his recollections with the audience. He had just finished physical training and was putting on his uniform when he watched initial coverage on television. By the time Piatt arrived at Hays Hall, he had witnessed the second plane crash into the second tower.
Piatt was raised in Somerset, Pa., not far from where the flight crew and passengers attempted to wrest control of Flight 93 from the hijackers.
"I remember the shock, thinking of my Family and friends there," he said. "I joined the Army when I was 17, and I thought I was trained and ready for war. I was supposed to protect my hometown. Now my home was under attack, and I was not there to help."
He later learned that the plane actually crashed near the small town of Shanksville, and as he continued the duties of secretary to the general staff, the realization sunk in.
"That morning, war had come to our nation in a small Pennsylvania town eight miles from where I grew up," Piatt said. "At every location, emergency responders put their lives on the line without hesitation. No one could have trained or prepared for the devastation that day. Brave firefighters, police and first responders acted, and by so doing, saved countless lives."
Piatt said that in the hours and days that followed, the command team at Fort Drum had to plan for any contingency that might be asked of the 10th Mountain Division as they braced for more attacks. Although it seemed like dire times, Piatt said there were moments of comfort and poignancy.
"(Then) Congressman John McHugh visited the base and went to church. My Family was fortunate enough to sit next to him. As (people in) churches did all over the U.S. that weekend, we all held hands. I remember my daughter, Jessica, holding hands with Congressman McHugh and (I was) thinking that my 6-year-old daughter would grow up in a time of war. I could see in her innocence why we had to win this war."
At the time, Piatt said that he didn’t think it was likely for an undermanned division, with personnel already scattered around the world on numerous missions, to be called into combat right away. Yet, that is what happened, and Piatt was reminded of the words of the 10th Mountain Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, who told them that "the nation would not ask if they were ready, but expect it."
"The 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum would play an enormous role, deploying forces every year to Afghanistan and Iraq," Piatt said. "We were in a war that to many seemed could not be won. The sacrifice was real and felt deeply here at Fort Drum. We lost friends, spouses lost their soul mates, parents lost their children and children lost their parents – and our nation lost hope. Still, the 10th Mountain Division persevered, and when many thought victory impossible, this division kept moving and we continue to move today."
Piatt said that Americans have known war for a long time now, and they should not forget the reason for it.
"It was on this day in 2001 when our nation was brutally attacked," he said. "We did not go to war to avenge their deaths, yet to honor their lives and the freedom of all Americans. As Americans, we would gladly share our freedoms and liberties with any nation who would ask. But we will fight any who try to take it by force. This was indeed what we witnessed on Sept. 11, 2001.
"It must not happen again, and we will not allow it. No matter how long it takes, we will continue the climb until all Americans are safe and free. We all must remain ready today, because we know firsthand that our nation will not ask; they will expect us to be ready."