On Saturday, September 11, Pepperdine University in Malibu held several events to commemorate the attack on America that took place twenty years earlier. On that day, nearly 3,000 people were killed by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda in four coordinated suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a plane crash into a field in Pennsylvania. Since 2008, the “Waves of Flags” display has featured 2,977 flags — one for each victim — placed along Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road.
The events began at 5:30 a.m. at the Thomas E. Burnett Jr. Heroes Garden, with wreaths laid at the exact time of day that each of the airplanes went down. The names of all 2,977 victims began scrolling on screens in Alumni Park at 8 a.m. Following a prayer service in the amphitheater next to Payson Library, guests viewed the film United 93, which tells the heroic story of Burnett and many other brave citizens who gave their lives to thwart the fourth attack. Many wept during the screening of the film, which took place in Elkins Auditorium.
The last and most memorable remembrances featured a memorial address by actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise. Sinise has been an advocate for America’s service members since the early 1980s, when he created Vets Night, a program offering free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. He formed an enduring connection with servicemen and women following his portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump and later appeared at several USO Handshake Tours in 2003. Sinise formed the Lt. Dan Band in early 2004 and began entertaining troops serving at home and abroad.
“Three days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, my family and I attended a service at our local church,” Sinise told the Pepperdine gathering. ”Later that night, a candlelight vigil on a street corner near our house. I held our American flag high over my head proudly and with distinction. Later, President Bush had proclaimed Friday, September 14, 2001, as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of the terrorist attacks. Like so many of us during that time, the tragic loss of life and violence inflicted upon our country left me heartbroken. It was like getting punched in the stomach, the wind knocked out of me. Our church was packed, standing room only, and at the end of service that day, we all joined in singing ‘God Bless America.’”
In 2011, Sinise established the Gary Sinise Foundation with a mission to honor our country’s defenders, veterans, first responders and their families, and those in need. Sinise has earned numerous distinguished awards, including the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian honor awarded to citizens for exemplary deeds performed in service of the nation. He is just the third actor to receive this honor.
Sinise continued in his remarks, “My decades-long advocacy for veterans and our men and women in uniform takes a solemn lesson from the Vietnam experience, at how American service members and veterans were treated returning from Southeast Asia. Divided over war, I didn’t want to see that happen to our current generation of veterans and those actively serving in the armed forces. With the unfortunate events in recent weeks, it is difficult not to see the parallels between the 1975 fall of Saigon in Vietnam and 2021 Afghanistan. It is disheartening and discouraging that twenty years later, Afghanistan is once again in the hands of the Taliban. The suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 26, the terrible killing of 13 American service members, with 22 wounded, and the loss of so many Afghan civilians, was another gut punch leaving me heartbroken and so very sad.”
Sinise concluded, “Our children — the children I was so afraid for after the attacks twenty years ago — have grown up. During these past two decades, our men and women in uniform have kept them safe, as no terrorist has planned and executed an attack on the United States from the mountains of Afghanistan. Our troops served honorably. I am proud of them and honored to support them. They protected this country, and I will be forever grateful to them for doing so. We pray that freedom will one day shine again for the Afghan people.”