Steve Robbins, the emergency medical services director of Woodsville Ambulance, delivered the following speech in Woodsville on Saturday at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Robbins — who is also a Select Board member, Woodsville Fire assistant chief, and an Iraq War veteran — asked those in attendance to rededicate themselves to family and community, and to rebuild relationships fractured by ongoing political and social conflicts.
The following is his speech in full.
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September 11th 20 years later, as I’ve tried to prepare for tonight, so many thoughts have gone through my head. I thought I would start by asking September 11th 2001, do you remember where you were when the planes hit the towers, the Pentagon, or crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania? I thought, should this be a somber talk? Or should I talk about the good since that gloomy day in 2001? Then we began a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and frankly**** hit the fan. It saddens me that 20 years later a great country is still battling over this heinous act. I write this as headlines report 13 US service members died trying to get our people out of Afghanistan. This mess makes me feel for those that watched the events of Saigon after their tireless service in Vietnam.
20 years ago today our great country was attacked, killing 343 NY firefighters, 23 NYPD officers, 37 NY Port Authority officers, and citizen bringing the total dead that day to 2753. 184 people died at the Pentagon, largely members of our military working there, and then in Shanksville 44 souls were lost fighting for their lives on an airplane reportedly heading to crash into the White House.
That day our country rallied, thousands of people ran to New York City to help try to recover even one living soul from that pile of rubble. These selfless people had no idea of the possible long term health effects of their actions, for some, this was essentially a suicide mission. Since that day many, many people have perished from the long-term health issues that being a hero caused.
After September 11, 2001, Americans couldn’t wait to help, couldn’t wait to join the military, their local fire department, or become a police officer. Everyone flew a flag, songs were written, our country became something that many of us had not seen before, THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA, we were one, we were all brothers and sisters, our country was strong, we were going to rebuild, we were going to be stronger than ever.
Since September 11, 2001 much has changed. This unity, this sense of country and community has frankly been forgotten. We have become a country where violence in our streets has become normal. Hearing of cities burning, businesses being looted, and property being destroyed is not a source of outrage. We have become a country where rewriting history is expected. A country where police officers are killed sitting in their patrol cars on a street corner. A country where disagreeing on politics has turned to hatred. A country where simple disagreements over relatively unimportant things have destroyed lifetime friendships.
On September 11, 2001 I had a few titles. I was a son, a husband, a father, a paramedic, a firefighter, a National Guardsman, and possibly a couple more. I felt that I was a proud American that was trying to do his part for his community and country. How wrong I was, there was so much more to come. Fast forward to the next chapter, around Thanksgiving 2003, my phone rang, “SSG Robbins, our unit is being deployed,” the remainder of the conversation is gone, I was alone at the moment, not completely shocked by the call, but still not completely prepared.
In early 2004 myself and 180ish other members of the NH Guard packed up and headed to Fort Dix, New Jersey for premob, and eventually made our way to our duty locations in Iraq. The next year was not something that I could have ever prepared for, or dreamed that I would be doing. That year earned me my next title, Combat Veteran. Probably one of the most confusing titles that I have had. It comes with a sense of honor, and pride, it comes with heartbreak, it comes with a complete change in who you are. The honor and pride comes from the thought of serving, events like receiving my 1st ID Combat patch on the 60th anniversary of D Day, Joining the VFW and building relationships with the likes of Earle Aremburg, Fred Delman, the late Don Stevens, Wayne Fortier, Steve Wheeler, Dale Pierson, Larry Elliott, and the list goes on, many of which you can see lining this street on banners. The heart break, the loss of your brothers in war, Alan Burgess would never join us on the way home, and the change in who you are, this is probably the toughest battle that I face, I am not the same guy that left, all the counseling or medications in the world will not bring my family the same guy that left. Many out there cannot handle this, I have had my brothers that have fought addiction, fought demons, and fought the stresses of everyday life. Some have lost this fight, Jimmy Kennan, Robbie Boutin.
Where am I going with this? Great question, it kinda flows like my brain some days, all over the place. I guess that my take home message to you tonight is this:
20 years ago today a heinous act of terrorism struck our great nation, it started a series of events that affected everything that I knew in life, the fire service, paramedicine, and my military career, and my family. It affected each of you as well, whether it was your career, your family, or something as simple as taking a family vacation, it hit us all.
20 years ago tomorrow, we all swore that WE WILL NEVER FORGET. What did this mean? Did we forget? Where did the volunteerism go? Where did our pride in the country go? Where did the flag in front of every home go? Why are there riots in our streets? Why don’t I ever see these lifelong friends together anymore. Why is our very own community falling apart? Did we forget?
I did not forget, I will not forget! I remember. I remember growing up in a great community where everyone knew everyone, they were friends and neighbors. I remember traveling, and feeling safe pretty much everywhere. I remember disagreements without hatred. I remember this great community, and my family of firefighters, military brothers and sisters, and my blood family rallying to remodel my home so I could come home after an accident. I refuse to FORGET.
Tonight I ask each of you to turn to the persons beside you and shake hands, or give a hug, and promise each other that you will not forget, go home, rebuild relationships with your childhood friends, do not forget the good times for politics.
Tonight I am joined by 3 special folks that gave me my last title, GRANDPA. Colby, Tyler. Sarah, I will not forget, I will give every ounce of myself to give you a better place to grow.
As we leave, I say to you. Never forget 9-11, strive for 9-12-2001, may God bless you all, may God bless our great country.