NEWS | Sept. 20, 2021

World Trade Center elevator pulley dedicated at VNG 9/11 remembrance ceremony

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Virginia National Guard Soldiers, Airmen and guests gathered to remember the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and dedicate a World Trade Center elevator pulley for historical display Sept. 11, 2021, at the VNG Sergeant Bob Slaughter Headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. 

The recently-obtained pulley, which will remain on permanent display outside of the headquarters building, was unveiled during the ceremony, a somber reminder of the tragedy which unfolded 20 years earlier. 

“When we first took delivery of the pulley system here, the Soldiers that were there had a range of emotions as they struggled to get this massive artifact into place,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, during the ceremony.  “What it really reminded me was that this tangible item represents a watershed event for all of us in uniform, our families and our civilian employees. This is a tangible item we can look to or put our hands on and say this is what it’s all about. We will never forget. We can’t forget.”

“Once upon a time, 20 years ago, it stood a thousand feet in the air. It made that long fall down and finally has come to its final resting place here,” said retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Al Barnes, the VNG command historian, who led the effort to preserve and display the pulley. “This artifact is dedicated to you guys. This artifact is for all the Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Global War on Terror victims, veterans and their families.”

Before the pulley’s unveiling, those gathered heard from the event’s guest speaker, retired Col. Todd Combee, former Virginia National Guard state chaplain, who shared his first-hand experience providing religious support in the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon. 

“As millions watched the events unfolding in New York and Washington, the times became etched in my mind. At 9:45, American Flight 77 circled over D.C. and slammed into the side of the Pentagon,” recalled Combee. “All told, 125 military personnel and civilians were killed in the Pentagon, along with 64 others aboard the aircraft. This is only part of the story, but this is the part that’s my story. I was called on Thursday of that week by the state chaplain at the time. He was going down the list of all the chaplains in the state. He was volunteering to go, and he was looking for three other volunteers to go with him. He called three chaplains. Each one said ‘yes.’”

Combee was eventually assigned to provide assistance to those injured in the Pentagon attack. 

“There were 125 lives were lost on the ground, 64 in the plane,” Combee said about the attack on the Pentagon. “Most walked away. Eleven people were severely injured. One succumbed to their injuries and became part of the number that had died. Ten others experienced severe burns and injuries, and they were put into the Washington Medical Center, a civilian hospital. I was assigned to go and spend time and pray with and listen to and assist the families and the victims from that day, some civilian, some military.”

Combee told the crowd gathered at the ceremony about a woman named Lois, the wife of a retired Air Force first sergeant. He described how she was severely burned when the plane struck the building, ultimately losing all of her fingers and her ears and enduring dozens of surgeries. As Combee spoke to her husband, he was able to bring him some peace of mind during an incredibly difficult and traumatizing time. 

“One day he was in tears. He said I have my ring from our wedding and we have Lois’s ring, but she can’t wear hers because she’s lost her fingers, and I don’t know what to do,” explained the chaplain. “I sat there for a moment and thought, you know, let’s just suggest to this first sergeant that he get a necklace and put her ring on it that she can wear around her neck. Then I said to him, perhaps you can get a necklace and put it around your neck to so that you can identify the same way she could. 

“A big smile came across his face, as he had conquered one of the questions he had that day, one of many.”

 The chaplain told those gathered at the ceremony the most important thing to do is remember. 

“People often ask me if it changed my view of serving in the military. I often say it was a defining moment for my 34 years of service. It happened so quickly, but the effects of it linger on even today,” said Combee. “Continue to pray for those families affected, continue to pray for our fellow service members, continue to pray for our nation and let us never forget.”

During the ceremony, Barnes thanked those who helped make the transportation and placement of the pulley possible, including members of the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, as well as personnel with the VNG Combined Support Maintenance Shop. The artifact was preserved with the work of Barnes and a group of retired volunteers called the Friends of the Guard. 

The pulley’s permanent display spot is next to a series of other artifacts in front of the headquarters building, including a M101A1 105mm light howitzer, a M41 Walker Bulldog tank, an F-84 Thunderstreak fighter and reconnaissance jet and a Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter, better known as a “Huey.” Around the side of the building from those artifacts is a historic M42 Duster, a 155-millimeter short-barrel howitzer, a 40-millimeter Bofors anti-aircraft gun and a World War II-era M4A3E8 Sherman tank. Read more about the historical artifacts at https://go.usa.gov/xMbx2

The Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided ceremonial music for the remembrance event.