With the American flag draped across his shoulder and an Iraqi Freedom cap placed over his heart, veteran Jesus Archuleta stood tall and proud.
“I could have attended any number of events happening today,” the junior criminology major said. “But I’m especially proud to be here [at Texas A&M University-San Antonio] today.”
“It’s very military embracing, this one puts a focus on it (military). The Patriots’ Casa, there is no other like it, not in Texas or California,” Archuleta responded when asked about why he chose A&M-San Antonio.
In commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, A&M-San Antonio paid their respects with a dedication ceremony which included a 5K Heroes Run, an exhibit showcasing 9/11 artifacts, and a seedling from Ground Zero. Survivor families of 9/11 participated in the events.
During the dedication, university president Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson spoke of the pride she takes in leading a university embracing military culture.
“We all have memories of where we were that day and what we were doing the moment when we first heard about the horrific attacks,” Matson said. “Today, our campus is filled with a great sense of community from elected officials, to the runners, to the survivor families, students, faculty, and community members.”
Guests included members of families of NYPD officers killed in the attack.
The dedication ceremony took place at the Patriots’ Casa, A&M-San Antonio’s home for military-affiliated students that provides academic, life and career skills support. A&M-San Antonio has a military-affiliated student population of 18% and is the only designated Purple Heart university in San Antonio, according to President Teniente-Matson.
Because of it’s strong military ties, A&M-San Antonio was one of three international locations chosen to receive a seedling from the Survivor Tree Seedling Program. Annually, the 9/11 Memorial gives seedlings to communities that endures recent tragedies. Past communities include Sandy Hook Elementary and Boston after the Boston Massacre.
The sapling is a descendant from the original 9/11 “Survivor Tree,” a Callery pear tree that was rehabilitated and nourished to grow again after being destroyed during the attacks. Today the main tree stands tall at Ground Zero.
“The 10-ft Callery pear tree has such a rich meaning to our institution and to the San Antonio community,” Director of Military Affairs, Richard Delgado said. “As a Marine, I can remember, along with most of you standing here with us, where we were that day.”
Grabbing shovels, President Matson, Delgado, McCormack and State Rep. John Lujan joined the 9/11 survivors to ‘plant’ the tree.
“Having the seedling of the “Survivor Tree” in the healing garden adds another purpose to A&M-San Antonio,” Matson said. “We are honored to house a historic reflection of the September 11th impact on our campus. There is no more fitting location than the Patriots’ Casa.
This tree represents grit and resilience. These are human attributes and characteristics that will inspire our students and the A&M-San Antonio community in what we do everyday in teaching and learning.” Matson continued.
Matson mentioned CJ Larkin, a recent A&M-San Antonio graduate, who survived a traumatic brain injury and was told he may not recover from the injuries. In May 2016, Larkin and his service dog walked the stage after earning two bachelor’s degrees.
“CJ represents the ‘grit and resilience’ that we talk about,” Matson said.
Read about CJ Larkin’s story here.
The 360 Exhibit
Paul McCormack, founder of Ground Zero 360, recognized A&M-San Antonio’s strong ties to the military community and nominated the campus to display the Ground Zero 360 9/11 Retrospective: 15 years later exhibit.
Ground Zero 360 is a traveling exhibition that educates the public with artifacts and mementos of 9/11 and honors victims and first responders. It will be displayed at the Patriot’s Casa until Sep. 12.
Stepping into the Patriots’ Casa, visitors will see a small reflection of what Ground Zero has looked like throughout the years.
The wall of “missing poster” ads are a loud and yet silent reminder of the citizens that were lost on 9/11. The ones that this nation will never forget because it’s what America values the most— its citizens. They will not be forgotten and the American spirit remains united.
“We have the responsibility to keep the memory alive and never forget the sacrifices of so many on a that terrible day,” McCormack said.
An acrylic painting on canvas, by Jim Fitzpatrick, of a waving flag with an inlaid image of Father Mychal Judge, the first recorded victim of the tragic attacks on 9/11, watches over the Twin Tower display.
In the Patriots’ Casa lobby, a father takes his son around to look at the exhibits. On display are pictures of our nation’s heroes including NYPD officer Brian McDonnell.
In the ceremony room, mementos included: a bronze replica of the “Survivor Tree”, a panoramic photo of Ground Zero and artifacts honoring NY firefighter, Kevin O’Rourke.
“The good thing is when you have stuff like this, people can’t forget. I have children that weren’t alive when this happened. For us, it’s memories. We lived through it but what about the generation coming up?” Lujan said.
“They need to know these stories, they need to hear the pain, they need to see the coming together, they need to see these things unless they have first hand experience. Seeing the exhibit the pictures, the artifacts, the metal, the ceremonies.”
“That’s why I brought my whole family–my wife, boys. I want them to experience it [the exhibit] and notice, it’s that important,” he added.”
This is the second time the traveling exhibit is displayed in Texas. After leaving campus, it will be on display downtown at the former Federal Reserve building from Oct. 17 to Feb. 17 2017, at 126 Nueva St.
5K Heroes Run
The ceremony concluded with a 5K Heroes Run sponsored by the Travis Manion Foundation, a foundation with four national offices, whose served more than 60,000 veterans and survivors, and strengthened communities throughout the nation.
Janet Manion, founder of the Travis Manion Foundation, is the mother of a fallen Marine, Travis Manion, was killed by a sniper will saving his wounded teammates in Iraq.
Participating in the 5K run were students, veterans, and military families including Lt. Col., United States AIr Force retired, A&M alumni, Dr. Kat Straus who sang the Star Spangled Banner before the Heroes Run.
Walkers took a head start before the runners but all participants were winners at the end of the race.
“Although it’s a somber day, it’s one of hope and pride.” Lujan said. “We have a spirit in the United States, our spirit is strong.”
Reporters Armando Padilla & Jerry Quijano contributed to this report.