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Wisconsin remembered the Sept. 11 terror attacks 15 years ago with a solemn ceremony early Sunday morning at the state capitol.

A moment of silence fell across the capitol grounds at exactly 7:46 a.m., followed by a rifle salute performed by the Menomonee Falls Police Department Honor Guard, and the playing of taps performed by the Wisconsin National Guard’s 132nd Army Band.

“Today we remember 2,977 innocent lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001,” said Gov. Scott Walker. “There will always be a hole in our hearts for those that were lost on that day. We pray, each day, a prayer of courage and protection for each and every one of you.”

“It’s been 15 years — we’ve all changed,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general.

Dunbar was on duty in Arlington, Virginia as the executive officer to the director of the Air National Guard that day 15 years ago. When a hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon, the explosion could be felt rumbling through the National Guard Bureau. An evacuation order was given over reports of a fourth hijacked airliner, which would eventually crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“I’m not aware of a single man or woman in uniform who obeyed that order,” Dunbar said. “We just kept working.”

sm160911-O-QS269-479.jpgWhile civilian first responders in New York City and Washington D.C. did tremendous work, Dunbar said the military did exactly what was expected.

“It increased its posture,” Dunbar said. “Personnel were recalled, units were recalled. And across our country, Air National Guard fighter jets took to the sky to defend our cities against any further attack. And something that is not well-recognized or reported — all across our country, tens of thousands of men and women in the National Guard, without waiting for Congressional action or direction from the President or the governor to issue an executive order, simply put their uniforms on and reported to their armories or their units knowing that their country was under attack.

“Always ready, always there is not just a motto.”

More than 100 men and women from the Wisconsin National Guard attended the ceremony. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Wisconsin National Guard has played a critical role in military operations around the globe.

sm160911-O-QS269-760.jpgRetired Milwaukee Fire Department Capt. Gregory Gracz reflected on the generosity of firefighters and community members from Wisconsin in support of New York emergency personnel directly affected by the tragedy. Gracz and others collected donations which were used to support the victims and their families after 9/11.

“From 9/11 to mid-December, we had raised three quarters of a million dollars,” Gracz said.

Walker spoke of his family and community singing “God Bless America” 15 years ago on the evening of Sept. 11, and recited the song’s prelude:

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair
As we lift our voices in solemn prayer …

Walker recalled the sense of national unity in the days and weeks following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“Our prayer today is that, as country, as a state, and as individual communities and as families all across this great nation, we would not only ask for God’s blessing on this nation, but that we would find more opportunities like today to be united.”