On Sept. 11, 2001, Americans witnessed the single-deadliest terrorist attack in the country's history, with nearly 3,000 American citizens losing their lives after members of Al-Qaeda flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center Twin Towers.
On Saturday, exactly 20 years after the deadly attack, the Spring Hill Fire Department held a memorial service at Fischer Park, and invited Master Sgt. Frank Berlanga to be the event's featured speaker.
A retired U.S. Military veteran who responded to the 9/11 attacks as part of the New York Air National Guard, Berlanga also served in Afghanistan as part of the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron.
Before Berlanga recounted his experience 20 years ago, however, Spring Hill Mayor Jim Hagaman reflected on where he was that fateful day.
"Twenty years ago today, America came under attack which played out to be one of the most profound, deadly and horrific events in our nation's history; almost 3,000 citizens perished that day," Hagaman said.
"I remember exactly where I was - I was working at Vanderbilt University and we have a section out there called 'the towers.' My wife called me - I was at work doing my thing - and I was glued to the TV. My daughter, who was seven years old at the time, didn't want me to go to work any time after that because she didn't want any airplanes to crash into the towers that I worked at."
As a military veteran himself, having served in the U.S. Air Force for 21 years, Hagaman thanked his veteran brothers and sisters, followed by an introduction of Berlanga.
"Twenty years ago our world changed forever; like most people in the world, we will never forget what happened that morning," Berlanga said.
"The sun was shining, the sky was blue. I was down at the ground in what's come to be known as ground zero at the World Trade Center. My team was deployed immediately; we were sent to assist with the rescue efforts, and united we stood alongside fire, police and EMS."
Berlanga struggled when listing how many of his brothers and sisters in arms perished that day. A close family member placed his hand on Berlanga's shoulder in comfort.
"We searched to save someone of the 3,000 lives lost; some were recovered, but 343 firefighters, 60 police officers, 18 EMS and 10 uniformed services never made it home," Berlanga said. "My unit searched for three weeks before we were deployed into harm's way, but we were not alone."
After Berlanga's speech, he presented the Spring Hill Color Guard with a U.S. flag that was given to him after his retirement in 2013, which was then raised at the Veteran's Plaza at Fischer Park.
The Sept. 11 attacks are considered to be among, if not the single-deadliest terrorist attack in world history, killing nearly 3,000 people, injuring an estimated 25,000 people and destroying property worth more than $10 billion.
The War in Afghanistan — the United States' single-longest military conflict — was a direct response to the Sept. 11 attacks, and ended only last month on Aug. 30.