COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — More than 400 Gold Star Family members gathered at the National Infantry Museum outside the gates of Fort Benning to remember their loved ones who died in the 20-year Global War on Terror that followed the 9-11 attacks.
“These are the ones that paid the ultimate price as Gold Star families,” said Pete Jones, president, CEO of the National Infantry Museum.
And people like Rob Bulter were there to support those family members. Butler stood ramrod straight as part of a Patriot Guard flag line the families walked through going into the museum for the start of what promised to be an emotional day.
“Especially in light of recent events, this doesn’t have anything to do with politics,” Butler said. “This is about Americans taking care of Americans.”
And one Gold Star mother, Sheila Mitchell-Murphy, could not have agreed more. Her son, Specialist Etienne Murphy was killed in 2017 in Syria.
“It is very important that I come here for my son even though it’s very painful,” Mitchell-Murphy said. “And also, these Patriot Guard riders, they are my family now. They care. They don’t know me. They don’t know my son, but they know our sacrifice.”
Gen. Michael X. Garrett, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, is a four-star general who commands more troops than any other officer in the Army. And he was nervous as he stood in front of the Gold Star families. He even said so.
“I had butterflies in my stomach,” he said. “And I don’t usually get butterflies in my stomach. The last time I can remember having butterflies in my stomach was when I had to tell a mom or dad that their soldier wasn’t coming home.”
Garrett, who in many ways is a son of Fort Benning and has family members living in Columbus, talked about the emotions of these families.
“Like the general said this morning, we are sad, we are angry, we are tired but above we are grateful and we are proud of our men and women in uniform willing to die for our freedoms,” said Jeanie Taylor, a Gold Start widow.
She lost her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, in 2018 in Afghanistan. He left behind seven children and a wife who’s a fighter. He was a National Guardsman who was the mayor of North Ogden, Utah.
Taylor says the pain is real and it hits the children especially hard.
“America’s Gold Star kids are the ones who pay the higher price, even higher than the mom, higher than the widow, and I mean that with the greatest to all the moms, dads and widows and siblings,” Taylor said. “These little kids are growing up without a parent in their lives because of the price of freedom. I want them to know their father is a hero. That he loved them more than anything. And he literally laid down his life so that they can have a beautiful future full of hope and opportunity.”
The 9-11 memorials in the Chattahoochee Valley were not limited to the National Infantry Museum.
They were up early in East Alabama to remember 9-11 on this 10th anniversary. And they did it military style with 3.1-mile ruck march.
About the time the sun came up, the rucks came out in Smiths Station.
The march was organized by retired Army Staff Sgt. Lee Rollins, with the Travis Manion Foundation, which empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes.
Rollins said there was a good reason to put the 40-pound rucksack on and march.
“For a lot of people running is easy, but when you put that weight on your back, and you go and walk the 3.1 miles it’s kind of a weight on the shoulders on the backs of every single American or every citizen of the 19 different countries who lost someone on September 11th,” Rollins said. “And it kind of gives you the idea of how I am out here doing stuff.”
More than 50 people showed up to march in memory of those who died in the 9-11 attacks.
While they were marching in Smiths Station, one local Boy Scout organized a 9-11 memorial event at the Mildred Terry Library in downtown Columbus.
Kevin Green Jr., 16, put the event together as part of his Eagle project. Firefighters, police officers, elected officials and Mayor Skip Henderson gathered in the courtyard to remember the solemn events of 9-11.
The attacks happened five years before Green was born, but there was reason to picked this day.
“The reason I chose a 9-11 memorial service is that it takes us back to when America was united instead of divided as it is currently,” Kevin Green Jr.
About 75 people attended the memorial and his father, a Columbus firefighter, helped it lay a wreath at the flagpole.