Patriot Day was introduced as a National Day of Mourning in October of 2011, making 9/11/2002 the first Patriot Day. The day is a day of remembrance in memory of those who died during the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center and the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. While memorials have been created at the sites of these losses, Patriot Day is a day to remember and reflect on 9/11.
Patriot Day is a time of remembering for all Americans, and for military families, it is a time to also reflect on the military service of the service member. Those who were old enough to remember this day, remember where they were and what they were doing. It is a memory that will not soon be forgotten. For many serving in service now, 9/11 was the impetus for them to come to service or even return to service.
Walk/Run to Remember
Military bases around the world have set up memorial runs or walk on 9/11. While Patriot Day is not a federal holiday, doing something active to reflect on this loss is important. Bases or units hold organized runs. Participating in the activity provides time to be together and reflect on the losses of the day.
Reflect on Service
For those who were not in service at 9/11, it may have been the impetus to enter service. Per Veterans Affairs, of the 4.2 million Post-9/11 veterans, 2.8 million of them served only during Post-9/11. Seeing the tragedy play out on television, or for some in real-time as they were in Washington DC or New York City, was the call to serve their country in some capacity. Within the 246th Marine Corps Birthday Message, General Berger and Sgt Maj Troy Black reflected on those who specifically joined or rejoined service and, after twenty years, had reached their retirement. The events on 9/11 led to the campaigns of Operation Iraqi Freedom(OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), of which military service members deployed and served. Whether 9/11 was the reason for serving or not, military service members deployed in some capacity in support of those campaigns, and Patriot Day is a time to reflect on that service and those who they served with.
Fully recognizing that 9/11 shaped the military course for the following decades, Patriot Day is a time for memorials. Not just for those who perished on that day, but for those who died in service to their country. Pictures with names of service members line streets on the base, at entrances of military posts, and sometimes in personal yards. It’s a stark reminder of the meaning of the day. It is tangible. For military families who may not be able to travel to the memorial sites in Pennsylvania, Washington DC, or New York City, this is a way to reflect and remember, creating their own memorial.
There are pieces of the Pentagon and World Trade Centers around the United States. The Marine Corps Museum has a specific 9/11 unit with items and a wall from the Pentagon. The Ronald Regan Presidential Museum in Southern California has a piece of bent structure from the World Trade Center showcasing the power of that day. Families that are closer to these locations don’t visit just on Patriot Day but throughout the year, sharing the life-changing day with their children.
Being a member of the military, and a family member of a service member, during the post-9/11 world means there is an understanding of what deployment is. Typically, multiple deployments for military service members. At the height of OEF and OIF, deployments were on average 6+ months in length. Sometimes that meant 6 months deployed, 6 months home, and then repeat. That is the reality of the all-volunteer military service. As a military family member, that meant more time alone – juggling all of the demands at home alone. The weight of home life was burdened on those left behind. The operation tempo meant long hours of deployment work-up and then periods of no communication while the service member was deployed.
The profound immediate shock of September 11, 2001, has passed. Now over twenty years later, it may feel remote, especially for those who were not alive at that time. In fact, there are military service members in active service who were born after that date. But among the military community remembering the loss of 9/11 and the impact it had on the military community is valued, and remembering this day will continue.