Calling it a marathon that’s grown into an ultramarathon, Greg Mays shared how the United States remains in a war to defeat terrorism.
Mays, director of Homeland Security at the Tennessee Department of Safety, helped Middle Tennessee State University commemorate the 21st anniversary of the four coordinated terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by the extremist group al-Qaida in 2001, as MTSU hosted the eighth annual 9/11 Remembrance on campus.
The event was held Sunday, Sept. 11, in the Tom H. Jackson Building’s Cantrell Hall. It was hosted by the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, which assists more than 1,000 student veterans and family members seeking degrees, pursuing careers or needing help with VA benefits.
A retired U.S. Secret Service agent and a U.S. Navy veteran, Mays was the guest speaker for the ceremony. He shared memories as part of then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s Secret Service detail in the aftermath.
“This nation will stand for freedom. We must, to honor the lives of those who gave everything — both on 9/11 and in the wars and conflicts around the globe since then,” Mays said. “We awakened as a nation that day, and I hope and pray we do not lose sight of the priceless freedoms we enjoy.”
Mays, who shared that he did not know what terrorism meant as an 11-year-old but that his 11-year-old daughter does understand, quoted former President Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”
Concluding, Mays said “to those whose losses were deeply personal and are still mourning — and I know horrible losses like that can ripple across generations — may you find comfort in your faith and in the love and gratitude of a nation.”
MTSU ROTC senior cadets Urielle Umutoni, Chris Boykin and Tyson Ramsey read a timeline of 9/11 events, then personally shared how that day in history influenced their decision to pursue military careers. Umutoni and Ramsey were only 1 year old at the time; Boykin was 14.
In a high school freshman history class learning about Mesopotamia, Boykin said a “different teacher burst through the door and pleaded to turn on the TV. When she did, the image on the screen is one I will never forget. Flight 11 had just struck the north tower. Like my classmates, I sat there wondering what was going on, trying to grasp what was happening.
“I come from a military family. However, until this horrific event, I had never truly felt the meaning of patriotism. After hearing President Bush’s ‘bullhorn’ speech at Ground Zero, where he proclaimed, ‘The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.’ A fire was ignited in me that still rages on. I felt a true calling to enlist in the Army and continue faithfully serving the nation that I love to this day as we destroy terrorism and evil.”
Keith M. Huber, senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, provided the welcome and prayer. University President Sidney A. McPhee was joined by faculty, staff, students, alumni and other guests in attending the early-morning event.
“We remembered all who died in the attacks of 9/11 and who served and sacrificed in the wake of that day,” McPhee tweeted on social media.
Huber told the audience “the attack on 9/11 changed our world forever. People died doing what they did in service to our nation.” In closing, he urged them “to do some self-reflection” for what happened that day.
MTSU School of Music professor Stephen Smith sang the national anthem and veteran Robert Aanerud performed taps.
A special field of flags adorned the grassy area near the MTSU Veterans Memorial outside the Tom Jackson Building in remembrance of the nearly 3,000 victims that day.
—Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)