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Samantha L. Quigley, American Forces Press Service
NEW YORK, Nov. 9, 2008 –
The grey sky had been trying to hold back the rain forecasters had promised yesterday, but it couldn’t stave off the drops any longer as wounded servicemembers worked to check their tears during a ceremony at Ground Zero here, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood until Sept. 11, 2001.
For many, including Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, it was a first visit to the hallowed ground. He had been on the job at the Pentagon as director of the Army Operations Center for three weeks on that day when American Airlines Flight 77 tore a hole in the side of building.
“For me, this is particularly a difficult place to be. I just didn’t want to come,” Chiarelli told the wounded warriors. “Today, I know why I never came to this location. [It was so] I could be here for the first time with you. Being here with you is truly something very, very special.
“I salute each and every one of you,” he said, adding a crisp hand salute.
The visit was extremely emotional for some of the servicemembers. Army Staff Sgt. Charles Eggleston, who suffered multiple injuries when his patrol was hit by a roadside bomb near Mosul, Iraq, in 2005, said he was near the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and it was good for him to see the New York site.
“It’s good to get a chance to really establish that closure that you never had a chance to [before],” he said. “You can almost feel the spirits here. That’s cool. That’s the way it is.”
Army Cpl. Jeffrey Stowers, who suffers from an enlarged heart caused by a blunt-force trauma about a month ago, called the experience surreal.
“I viewed [the Sept. 11 attack] as it was unfolding on TV at my house,” he said. “My wife and I, for the past five years, discussed making a trip up here.”
He said it was especially meaningful for him to have made his first trip with ‘my family and my family,’ referring to his wife, Karri, and his military brethren.
Raw emotions bubbled to the surface when Chiarelli concluded the ceremony by presenting each of the warriors with a cased American flag that had been flown over Ground Zero.
“There are so many people that deserve this more than me. I don’t feel worthy of this,” Stowers said. “There are people who gave everything.”