For Col. Ron Allen, the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, “started like any other.”
He was a captain at the time, working at the Pentagon. Now he’s the commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom.
That morning, he woke up at 6 a.m. as usual and headed to work. Not long after arriving, office chatter turned to the attack on the World Trade Center happening in New York City.
“We all knew then our nation was under attack,” Allen said during a ceremony in the Malmstrom chapel Friday.
But work continued at the Pentagon, and he was headed to a meeting at 9:30 a.m. on the fourth floor of the C Ring.
During the meeting, there was a loud noise and the building was rumbling, Allen said.
Someone in the meeting asked him to open the meeting room door to find out what happen. Allen went down the hall and found panic, screaming and people running.
He didn’t know it yet, but American Airlines Flight 77 had struck the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
Everyone was sent back to their offices to check in and then evacuated the building, he said. Still not knowing what had happened, once outside, there was the “unmistakable smell” of burning jet fuel, he said.
Allen said he didn’t personally know any of those killed at the Pentagon that day but said they all saw the carnage and the bodies carried out covered with white sheets.
“That day didn’t break us,” he said. Instead, the attacks “made us stronger,” and despite the destruction, “we returned to the still-burning Pentagon the next day.”
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., attended the ceremony and said “it is our absolute duty to never forget their sacrifices,” of those killed that day.
In the 15 years since the attacks, Daines said it’s important to continue honoring the bravery of the first responders and passers-by who rushed into the danger to help others at the Pentagon and New York City, as well as on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
“There was a moment of moral clarity that day,” Daines said.
The nation saw the forces of evil that day, but also the forces of good. And as terrorists tried to weaken the nation, “9/11 truly showed the best of humanity. In one of our darkest hours … there are always those in our country willing to sacrifice for others,” Daines said.
Daniel Dodson, deputy fire chief at Malmstrom, said the actions of first responders that day was “the ultimate example of service before self.”
Those firefighters went in knowing it would be a bad day, and that they might not make it out, Dodson said.
“It was an example of the efforts we can take to save people from harm if at all possible,” he said.
Col. Robert Frederiksen, commander of the 341st Security Forces Group at Malmstrom, comes from a long line of law enforcement and said it’s important to continue remembering the “sacrifices that our first responses made that day.”
Their actions that day “says a lot about our country and what it means and how people will give up their lives for others,” Frederiksen said. “We know day to day we may have to respond to something like that.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, he was getting his master’s in criminology at Florida State University and working with the Tallahassee police department. The week before the attacks, they had done a vulnerability assessment of the airport.
“I’ll never forget,” Frederiksen said. “We knew we were at war at that point.”
Rep. Ryan Zinke is introducing a bill Monday that would grant an exception to federal law and allow a Global War on Terror Memorial to be built on the National Mall in Washington.
Under current law, a military operation is only eligible for a memorial 10 years after the official end date of the conflict, which disqualifies all post-9/11 operations as they are ongoing.
Zinke’s bill would exempt the proposed memorial from the 1986 Commemorative Works Act, which some say was enacted to prevent a repeat of Jan Scruggs’ feat in getting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial authorized and built within three years. It was completed in 1982. Scruggs retired from the nonprofit he founded to build The Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and is now a board member for the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation.
In a letter to colleagues, Zinke said his bill would grant the exception and also give the GWOT foundation a congressional designation as the only nonprofit authorized to take on the endeavor of creating the memorial.
“As we well know, the Global War on Terror, one of the longest continuous and active wars in U.S. history, has been ongoing for nearly 15 years and does not have an anticipated end date,” Zinke wrote in the letter. “The 1986 Act, while well intentioned, has created an unintended consequence that threatens our ability to honor the countless sacrifices of our Armed Forces since 2001. We want to ensure that military commemoratives are still vetted and considered by Congress, but also want to adequately honor the service of those in the Global War on Terror.”
To learn more about the memorial, go to www.gwotmemorialfoundation.org.
If you go
Great Falls Fire/Rescue is hosting a ceremony in honor of the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
All community members are invited to join first responders from area fire, police and medical agencies from 8-10 a.m. Sunday at Great Falls Fire Station 1, 105 9th St. S., as they pay tribute to fallen comrades and civilians.