The numbers cannot convey the full magnitude of the tragedy.

Nearly 3,000 innocent lives were lost on Sept. 11, 2001. Millions more were affected. Three-hundred and forty three first responders died while saving others.

So on Tuesday, 343 miniature American flags were put on display on College of Coastal Georgia’s campus, in honor of first responders who died on 9/11. VALOR, a student veterans organization at the college, hosted a ceremony Tuesday morning to mark the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“As we gather today to remember all the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, VALOR puts a special focus on the first responders,” said Dwayne Carson, the president of VALOR. “Our memorial here represents 343 first responders who, without thought of their own lives, flew into action, to save our fellow Americans.”

The ceremony included a moment of silence for all lives lost that day, when terrorists hijacked four airplanes and crashed two planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, another into the Pentagon in Virginia and a third in a field in Pennsylvania.

The coordinated terrorist attack changed the United States dramatically. The college’s ceremony joined thousands of others across the country Tuesday in remembrance.

“As this becomes almost a campus tradition for us, I caution us on getting accustomed to the act of acknowledgement and forgetting the actual reason we’re here,” said Jason Umfress, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at the college. “… We hear quoted the number of people who lost their lives, including civilians and rescue workers, and those who died in the attacks … We honor their memory today.”

Lt. Col. Sam Brinkley, a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps and past president of the local chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, said 9/11 began like any other day. In a matter of minutes, though, the world was permanently altered.

“There were nearly 3,000 innocent victims on that day,” Brinkley said. “Going to work, not a care in the world, doing what they did everyday. Got on airplanes, and flight crews went to work. Just like us today, they got up and did what was normal for them. Then events happened.”

After the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, first responders ran into the burning buildings while everyone else ran out.

“They saved countless lives that morning, and in the end, with the collapse of the towers, many of them gave up their lives to save others,” Brinkley said.

Law enforcement officials, first responders and members of the military continue that work today, he said, and deserve a resounding “thank you” from those whom they aim to protect.

“I remember all those that have sacrificed and who have served and continue to serve to protect us every day, from the evil that plans and works continuously to destroy our freedoms and our way of life,” Brinkley said. “We owe them so much, every single day.”

As years pass, though, generations are being raised who know of 9/11 only through history books and the memories of others.

“For many of our traditional students, you were barely born when this cowardly act of terror took place,” Umfress said. “But for many of us, we remember exactly where we were when we heard what was happening in New York City and in the Northeast.”

Umfress encouraged those in attendance to not only remember but to also celebrate the lives lost on 9/11.

“We all have realized, in wake of this tragedy, that we’re all human beings, that we’re all more alike than we are different,” he said. “And no matter your politics, your religion or your background or your culture, we are all Americans.”

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