By Emily Williams
Unity was the theme as retired Lt. Col. Ginger Branson spoke at the city of Hoover’s annual Patriot Day Remembrance Ceremony.
She spoke of moments in history that were unforgettable and united everyone in the country regardless of their differing beliefs.
As she spoke, a masked crowd sat in chairs spaced out across a section of the Finley Center.
Branson, a registered nurse, served in the U.S. Army from 1973 to 2005, concluding her time with the Army Reserve as the head nurse of the intermediate care unit of the 75th Combat Support Hospital in Tuscaloosa.
A Vestavia Hills resident, Branson was the recipient of the Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Freedom Award in recognition of her years of service in the armed forces and her continued support of veterans. She is the commander of the Hoover-based Ryan Winslow American Legion Post 911.
“My momma and daddy could tell you exactly where they were on Dec. 7, 1941, a day that, indeed, lived in infamy,” Branson said. “And some of us old timers still ask, ‘Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated?’
“I was a teenager,” she said. “In fact, it was the fall of my senior year and I was in art class at Woodlawn High School.”
The years following Kennedy’s death seemed to Branson filled with historical divides, ones such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Then came Sept. 11, 2001, when planes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. At 7:46 a.m. central time, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
The tragic timeline of the day continued when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 8:02 a.m. central, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon at 8:37 a.m., and then United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania at 9:03 a.m.
As a nation, Branson said, we were all glued to our television sets.
“Maybe you wept,” she said. “Maybe you prayed, unless you lived and worked in New York City or unless you were a first responder in the area. There was no time for weeping or anger, for them there was only focus.”
Of the nearly 3,000 citizens who died that day, more than 400 were first responders. By 2013, Branson noted, more than 1,400 first responders had died from conditions relating to exposure to toxins at Ground Zero. The death count continues to grow, and nearly 4,000 responders and other survivors have since died of conditions that could be related to toxic exposures that day.
“None of the heroes of 9/11 rushed into the twin towers to save a building,” she said. “Their purpose was to rescue people. In my heart, I know that most of them realized that rushing into the mouth of hell on that day would most likely be their last action on this earth. … I believe that most of them knew they were giving up their tomorrow so that someone else could have their today.”
Just as she had seen the nation forego its differences in grief of President Kennedy’s death, Branson said that things that divided us as a nation were pushed aside after 9/11.
“We stood shoulder to shoulder, on and on, suffering the same grief and profound loss,” she said.
“What mattered was not what divided us, but what united us,” she added. “It was the greatest surge of patriotism in my lifetime.”
Branson finished her words with a request that we continue to share our 9/11 experiences and pass down the legacy of what it means to be united.
Patriot Day, she noted, is so named because of the patriotism shown that day and in the weeks that followed.
“So, lest they forget, it is vital that we teach our children and grandchildren the pride and glory that being a patriotic American citizen feels like,” Branson said.
“Remember where were you on Sept. 11, 2001, and please, tell your story.”