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Retired Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond was the keynote speaker at Hattiesburg's 9/11 Memorial Ceremony held on Wednesday. Hammond was in the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond remembers vividly on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists forced four airliners into buildings and killed 2,996 Americans in New York City, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon.

He was holding on to the walls inside the Pentagon as hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building, killing 125 employees, including Hammond’s staff.

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Hattiesburg honored first responders at yesterday's 9/11 Memorial Ceremony.

Hammond was the keynote speaker on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at the City of Hattiesburg’s 9/11 Memorial Ceremony at the No. 1 Fire Station across from the city’s 9/11 memorial. He recalled those moments after the World Trade Center had been attacked and now terrorists had hijacked an airliner and forced it into the Pentagon.

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Hammond recalls the moments after the World Trade Center had been attacked, and then as the plane crashed into the Pentagon.

“I realized that my office had been hit because it collapsed on top of our operations center,” he said. “It was filling up with smoke, and we weren’t going to get out alive. (Four-star Gen.) Jack Keane told us, “We were not going to get out alive. The phone system still works; make one last telephone call.’”

Hammond called his wife, Diane.

“She said, ‘Are you OK?’” Hammond said. “I said, ‘I’m OK right now. I will always love you.’”

Hammond said he didn’t know how to make everyone at the ceremony feel better.

“I wish I did,” he said. “I spent years away from my family fighting wars. I want you to know I hate war; I despise evil, but I can offer you some hope.”

Hammond quoted Army Gen. Douglas McArthur’s 1962 speech at West Point. “He said this – ‘Duty. Honor. Country. These three hallowed words dictate what you should be, what you might be, and what you will be. They are your rallying points to build courage.’”

The four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, killed 2,996 people, injured more than 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. More people died of 9/11-related cancer and respiratory diseases in the months and years after the attacks.

9/11 is the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history and the single deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States, with 343 and 72 killed, respectively.

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Mayor Toby Barker

During the Hattiesburg ceremony, Fire Chief Sherrocko Stewart and Police Chief Anthony Parker spoke about the heroism of the first responders who died in the 9/11 attacks. Mayor Toby Barker welcomed the crowd to the ceremony and later made remarks about the importance of the day. MORE OF THIS STORY CONTINUES BELOW.

Ted Tibbetts and Mark Herrington of the Allen B. Carter Post 24 American Legion presented $500 checks each to the city’s Firefighters and Police benevolent funds. After 18 years, each fund has received $9,000 from the American Legion post.

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Placing the wreath and the lowering of the flag by the Hattiesburg Fire Honor Guard

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The National Anthem was played by violinist John Eze Uzodinma II.

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“Taps” was played by Navy veteran Howell Purvis.

Other activities during the ceremony included the invocation by Pastor Carlos Wilson, the lowering of the flag by the Hattiesburg Fire Honor Guard, the National Anthem by violinist John Eze Uzodinma II, a 21-gun salute by the Hattiesburg Police Honor Guard, playing of “Taps” by Navy veteran Howell Purvis, the benediction by the Rev. Todd Watson, and the laying of the wreath at the 9/11 memorial by representatives of the Hattiesburg Police Department, Hattiesburg Fire Department and AAA Ambulance Service.

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