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NEWS | Sept. 15, 2011

Randolph hosts 9/11 commemoration ceremony

By Alex Salinas 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs

On Sept. 11, 2001, many fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters were lost. A decade later, America remembered its fallen brethren and heroes.

Sept. 9 at the Randolph Base Theater, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles Baldwin, retired Chief of Chaplains, who was in the Pentagon when one of the hijacked commercial airplanes hit the building, spoke on behalf of Randolph's commemoration, "The Stones Cry Out...Again: A Ten Year Commemoration of 9/11."

Other Air Force chaplains joined Baldwin and Brig. Gen. Theresa Carter, 502nd Air Base Wing commander, in words of solemnity.

"We still remember that heroes stood tall on that day and the days and years to follow, to save and protect lives," Carter said.

Carter also gave historical perspective to the event's theme.

"In ancient India, hero stones were chiseled in honor of warriors who sacrificed their lives to protect their community or region," she said.

In this act of collective remembrance, coming from all who attended the commemoration, reverence for the Divinity was a powerful, and emotional, component of the program.

Chaplain (Capt.) Jason Kim, 502nd ABW Operating Location B Protestant chaplain, recognized and highlighted a positive outcome of 9/11: compassion.

"The American Dream is alive and well because of your blessings and because of the brave men and women who serve and protect us," Kim said in his invocation.
And it was focus on the blessings rather than the curses of 9/11 that sparked reverence in Chaplain (Col.) Cherri Wheeler, Air Education and Training Command command chaplain.

"Every generation has a defining moment," she said, citing the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas as defining moments for past generations. "9/11 is my generation's defining moment. It rekindled a patriotism not experienced in this nation in over 30 years."

Baldwin, who became a first responder chaplain caring for the wounded at the Pentagon, shared the Biblical story of Joshua leading the Israelites to the Promised Land, crossing the Jordan River and having one member from each of the 12 tribes collect a stone from the river and stack them on the other side as a memorial for humanity, as a memorial for those lost and those to come, for future generations.

Baldwin said the memorial the Israelites built 3,000 years ago is symbolic toward memorials the U.S. and nations around the world have constructed for the purpose of remembrance.

"We honor those who, with their lives, have marked the price of freedom," he said. "The stones cry out, again."

Baldwin shared an anecdote about what he remembers seeing shortly after the attack on the Pentagon, citing two instances of bravery that struck his memory.

"A beautiful female second lieutenant ran up to me and said, 'Chaplain, what can I do to help?'" he said. "I saw her throughout the day setting up cots and carrying water bottles to the injured."

"The other person was an Air Force two-star general," Baldwin said. "He rolled up his blue sleeves and carried litters (to the injured)."

Baldwin continued and said the two-star general ran to the front of a volunteer line to re-enter the Pentagon to look for survivors. Just then, the Old Guard, Arlington National Cemetery's honor guard, arrived to perform the search and rescue. The two-star general then continued to help care for the wounded.

Bravery and unity persevered over terror and tragedy.

Baldwin shared a poignant moment with the audience, describing his reaction to a question from a newscaster shortly after 9/11.

The question asked to him was, "Where was God on Sept. 11?"

His answer, without spiritual falter, was a challenge to those who challenged God's presence that fateful morning.

"He was very present for duty," Baldwin said. "He brought comfort to the injured, gave strength to the rescue workers, healed the wounded bodies and mended the broken hearts. When His children died, He wept. We could not have made it through the day without Him."