In a moving salute to America's heroes on Sept. 11, Charlotte Motor Speedway and The American Red Cross began the speedway’s Laps for Life blood drive on Wednesday by honoring those who lost their lives in the attacks 18 years ago.
Military chaplains Henry Haynes and Randy Cash spoke at the event’s opening ceremonies at the Avenue of Flags, which featured a collection of emergency vehicles and public safety officers amid a backdrop of American flags. Haynes, a retired U.S. Army chaplain, was Chaplain of The Pentagon when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.
“We are here today to honor those who perished in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and to re-dedicate ourselves to the cause for which they gave their lives; the cause of human liberty,” Haynes said. “We will not forget the events nor will we forget how Americans responded in New York, at the Pentagon and in the skies over Pennsylvania; with heroism and selflessness, with compassion and courage and with prayer and hope.”
Haynes said on that day that changed the country’s history forever, he saw American people responding to the act of hate.
“Yet amidst the horror of those moments and the years since there have been thousands, millions of individual acts of bravery and generosity that testifies to our profound sense of community. We cannot forget what happened on September 11. Dedicated men and women came to work, boarded commercial aircraft and in an instant, were taken from us,” Haynes said. “We gather today to remember them but we are here for another purpose as well; to mark that anniversary of a day that will be remembered by history and commemorated by successive generations so long as we remain a free nation.”
But Haynes said the battle that began 18 years ago against terrorism and darkness is not over. He said the road ahead is very long, even though the terrorists who attacked America in 2001 have already been defeated. He said their objective was to rid America of innocence and to make its citizens doubt themselves, but that didn’t happen.
“The terrorists wanted September 11 to be a day where innocence died; instead it was a day heroes were born. The terrorists wanted September 11 to be a day when hatred reigned; instead it was a day when we witnessed love beyond measure. We saw it in the rescue workers who rushed into burning buildings to save lives knowing they might never emerge. We saw it in passengers on Flight 93 who learned what was happening and decided it was better to fight and die in a grassy Pennsylvania field than allow the terrorists to reach our nation’s capital,” Haynes said. “The terrorists wanted September 11 to be a day when free people learned fear and self-doubt; instead it was a day when a sleeping patriotism was awakened in this country. Even as they wiped away their tears, Americans unfurled their flags.”
Cash, a native of Lincolnton, North Carolina, was commissioned a U.S. Navy Chaplain in 1980. After years of service with the Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, Cash was designated Deputy Chaplain of the Marine Corps on Sept. 11, 2001.
On that day 18 years ago, Cash said he doesn’t think there was a cloud in the sky. He went into his office like any other normal day before word came through about the attack on New York.
The first thing Cash did was gather with another chaplain and pray.
“We prayed for what we knew would be a very difficult and trying experience, not only for those there in the Pentagon and New York, but for our nation as well,” Cash said. “What happened on that day was there was a spiritual window of opportunity. Regardless of where we had been, regardless of who we were, that day changed the lives of all Americans and in many respects the world.”
Following the opening ceremonies, donors gave blood in the speedway’s infield Paddock Club and took a ride on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
“This is an opportunity for us as a speedway to give back,” said Greg Walter, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s executive vice president and general manager. “Sept. 11, 2001, changed the world forever. Having this blood drive with The American Red Cross is a natural for us, because this means so much to our staff and to our community to take a moment and remember the impact of what happened while we give back.”