"A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
On the morning of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush was visiting a second-grade classroom in Sarasota, Florida, to promote education. His Chief of Staff, Andy Card, in a later interview with Neil Cavuto recalled, "That day, the president thought he was going into a classroom to talk about his favorite topic...education and reforming our education system. We thought it was going to be an easy day."
In my duties as the president of Fork Union Military Academy, I often say, "There are no easy days at Fork Union." This is true for our cadets, who are challenged each day to be better than they were the day before. It is true for our staff and faculty, who meet and exceed high standards for professionalism and excellence every day in the classroom and on our campus. There are no easy days at Fork Union.
September 11th will never be an easy day for our FUMA family.
As the President of the United States was listening to eight-year-old children read "The Pet Goat," it was Andrew Card, the past parent of a FUMA cadet, who was called on to be the one to quietly whisper in the president's ear the world-changing news that America was at war.
Houston Eldridge, a longtime member of our staff and faculty, was among the first Green Berets to set foot in Afghanistan. Houston was just the first of many of us in the FUMA family called on to fight this war directly in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Jonathan Grundy, a graduate of FUMA's Class of 1994, was wounded in action in 2007 while leading a combat patrol in the Diyala River valley of Iraq, shot in the face during his third tour of duty in Iraq. Jonathan was just one of our FUMA family who came home bearing the wounds of this war.
Jonathan Dozier joined our Corps of Cadets twenty-seven years ago making straight A grades in all of his classes as a sophomore. Jonathan was killed in combat in central Iraq in January 2008 while serving in the US Army's 1st Armored Division. Eric Terhune, another of our past cadets, was killed in combat in June 2008 while serving in the 1st Marine Division of the US Marine Corps as a Forward Air Controller on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are forever carved into the stone wall of our Veterans Memorial, and forever seared into our memories. We honor their sacrifice in this war that began on September 11th.
September 11th will never be an easy day for our FUMA family.
Their names joined the names of fifty-three other FUMA alumni honored on Fork Union Military Academy's Veterans Memorial wall for having made the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts from World War I through Vietnam and beyond.
You see, there comes a time when every generation will face a call to action, a call to defend freedom and liberty against the evil that opposes it. It is the responsibility of each generation to be prepared and ready to answer when that call comes. That call to action may need to be answered by force of arms in military action, or it may need to be answered by the force of our leadership, our service to our communities, our civic responsibilities, by our words, our prayers, our votes, our force of will, and our resilience. Each generation must be prepared to defend by all means our freedom and liberty against the evil that opposes it.
That is why there are no easy days at Fork Union Military Academy.
We met as a school this week in Wicker Chapel—our Corps of Cadets and our staff—to tell the story of September 11th, to remember, and to honor all of those who lost their lives on that day and in the war that began that day. Our school chaplain, Chaplain Ben Jamison, closed that session with a prayer, and I want, in closing, to share with you those words from Chaplain Jamison.
We gather today to remember. Twenty years ago, we saw the power of evil. A power so profound that two decades later it still feels raw to see these images again. Many of us experienced the power of evil to kill and destroy. To tear down buildings and strip away from us the feelings of safety and security that we had come to take for granted. We watched it live or on our television screens amidst that backdrop of many in the world cheering at our pain.
We saw evil but we do not gather to remember such things.
No, in the darkness of that day, we saw something else emerge. Thousands of first responders woke up on a perfectly ordinary fall day. Unprepared for the unspeakable horror they would face. Yet we saw them run towards danger time and time again. Firefighters and Police Officers ran into burning and shaking buildings over and over. Many surely knew that this was the last act they would commit on this earth and chose to enter again to save one more life.
Men and women aboard United Airlines Flight 93, upon realizing the magnitude of what was happening around them had every opportunity to passively accept their fate. Instead, they chose to fight. Men and women who had not enlisted or commissioned, had not volunteered for dangerous jobs nonetheless chose to give their last full measure of devotion so that others may live.
We gather to remember these things. In the midst of the darkness these shined as a light the darkness could not overcome. Evil expected us to collapse but instead saw a nation emboldened by such heroism unite together. We fell to our knees in prayer and discovered a resilience that many mistakenly thought our country had lost.
We remember these things. We bear testimony to these things and as long as we have breath within our lungs, we must not, we will not stop telling this story.
I pray a blessing over the young man in this space today. As their character is formed within the crucible of Fork Union Military Academy and as they stand in the shadows of the heroes who have come before, we ask that you bless them. Help them to learn the lessons of that day. Create within them faith, courage and integrity so that if they find themselves facing the power of evil in the future, they too will be the light shining in the darkness.
In honor of all of those who lost their lives on 9/11 we enter into a moment of silence.
In Christ’s most holy name we pray, Amen.
I pray that God may bless all those whose lives are still touched by the events of September 11th.
And may God continue to bless Fork Union Military Academy as we prepare young men to be a light shining in the darkness.
God loves you and so do I.
Colonel David L. Coggins, USMC (Ret.)
Fork Union Military Academy