The people stood around Patriot’s Circle at Santa Fe College. All was silent except for a cough or a young child’s murmur.
Three men dressed in blue jackets and khakis approached the flagpole where an American flag fluttered at half-mast. One raised his trumpet and played a sorrowful tune.
The other two lowered the flag. Then one folded and passed it to Kaleb Griffel.
Like so many others, the events on Sept. 11, 2001, radically altered Griffel’s life.
To a crowd of about 75 at Friday morning's remembrance ceremony, he recalled the moment he saw the second plane strike the north tower. He was a senior in high school, a young man already set on joining the military. The towers’ fall only solidified the decision.
“It became apparent that morning my decision to become a Marine was going to change my life forever,” the 32-year-old said.
At 10:28 a.m., he called for a moment of silence to honor the lives lost that day and the men and women killed in the War on Terror.
Griffel served in the Marine Corps 12 years and did two tours in Iraq as a combat engineer.
“Serving in the United States Marine Corps would and has had profound effect on my life and many around me,” he said. “My fellow brothers and sisters in arms have all fought to honor those lives lost 14 years ago today.”
The ceremony is held annually by Santa Fe's Collegiate Veterans Society.
“Everybody forgets birthdays and anniversaries," said Griffel, a member of the veterans society. "I take it upon my shoulders to remind people of what came before so that we can remember those lives that we lost.”
Griffel wasn’t the only one who chose to join the military after 9/11. Victor Vega was around 7 when he watched the towers fall on the television, his mother Milly Ruiz-Taylor said.
Vega’s father worked three blocks from the towers. At that moment, Ruiz-Taylor feared the unknown: Was Vega’s father OK? Would there be another attack? She didn’t know.
So she and Vega prayed. And shortly thereafter, Vega made a choice.
“Mom I want to serve my country just like Daddy did,” Ruiz-Taylor recalled her son saying.
She carried a photo of her son in a dress uniform, clean shaven, looking straight forward. Her eyes were teary as she spoke about him, a man who dedicated his life to service and his country.
“He is so selfless,” Ruiz-Taylor said. “He just has such a serving attitude. He has a compassion that I just don’t see unfortunately in today’s generation that much. It is amazing. It’s truly almost like angelic, he just puts others before himself all the time.”
Shortly after the ceremony concluded and the crowd faded away, the flag stood once more at half mast, its stars and stripes waving in the air.
Contact Hunter Williamson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @hunterewilliam
The American flag flies at half mast after Santa Fe College's remembrance ceremony Sept. 11, 2015.