Sixteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Air Force Lt. Gen. Larry James still remembers the sequence of emotions he felt during the deadliest terrorist attack in American history.
"It was a seminal event in our history, and for those of us who experienced that day, this event is burned into our memory," he said during the 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony at Schriever Air Force Base on Monday.
James, who was the base commander that day, is now deputy director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.
First, he told the audience at Schriever, he felt surprised that such an event could fall beyond the reach of air traffic controllers. When the second Twin Tower at the World Trade Center was struck, he said, he wondered who was behind the aggression and why. Then, when news came of threats on the Pentagon and White House, James said, he feared strikes on other military structures, including the Colorado Springs-based North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known as NORAD.
Despite the national trauma over the tragedy, he said, first responders and military personnel serving that day maintained their composure through the chaos.
"We should take great pride that, despite the unknowns, our first responders and military members reacted as they were trained," said James.
The tragedy, bravery and unity that spread through the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the days to follow cannot be forgotten, James emphasized, especially as military personnel too young to remember the attacks learn to defend the homeland.
"We cannot let it fade into the dust of history," he said, as the memory will help the U.S. be prepared for any future attacks or natural disasters such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Across Colorado, state officials joined James and others at Schriever's ceremony in remembering.
"We will never forget that awful day and the innocent lives lost. We are forever grateful for our first responders, volunteers, and every person who took action that day to help those in need," said a statement by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.
Said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo, in a statement: "Today, communities across Colorado and the country have come together through a collective sense of patriotism to honor the fallen and those who have served and sacrificed in the years since. We will continue to recognize that spirit in our ongoing efforts to protect our nation."
At the end of Monday's ceremony, a commemorative wreath was placed beneath a 20-foot-tall beam from one of the Twin Towers that is kept at Schriever. A ribbon across the wreath reads, "We will never forget".