In the early evening on Sunday, uniformed personnel and civilians gathered at Memorial Rose Garden on Brooks Street to remember the loss they experienced 21 years ago: Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked.

Fifty crowd members recognized the attacks with 7,000 tiny American flags, weathered statues and a solemn march. Boy Scouts — some only half the size of the flags they carried — walked among weary veterans and spry volunteers. A former U.S. army chaplain handed out news clips from last year’s ceremony with a hearty, “Welcome aboard!” and joked that everyone thought he was in the Navy because of it. The event was officially called a Never Forget Service, and it’s the 20th to occur since 9/11.

Speakers — including Montana first responders; the woman who first started the service, Allie Harrison; and representatives sent by Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. Steve Daines — offered words of mutual support at the memorial ceremony. Some told the stories of where they were when they first heard the news, what they were doing when they first turned on the television.

Except not all present remembered the attack. 

For a growing population, the story of 9/11 is one that happened before they were conscious or born. Maybe that’s why few University of Montana students were at the gathering, ROTC Cadet and UM student Kevin Barnes said.

Barnes, like many other current UM students, was less than a year old when the Twin Towers fell. Growing up, he could recognize the effects of 9/11 on the world, but it was hard to conceptualize how powerful it was for Americans, he said. Barnes said his military service has helped him see it in a new light.

Barnes went to the Middle East last year to help with Operation Spartan Shield, a military movement designed to promote regional self-reliance and increase security, according to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. He’s returned to UM to continue his degree in resource conservation.

“I’ve gained a unique perspective from going over there,” Barnes said. “I’m one of the lucky ones to have gained a great experience.”

When he was told that he’d be helping with the memorial service about two weeks ago, Barnes said he felt a humbled gratitude. He’d helped with services before, Barnes said, but he said it felt different now that he’d served. He had a better understanding of the military, the war on terror and on leadership as a whole.

“A lot of service members were inspired by 9/11,” Barnes said. “My generation… it’s more of a ‘carrying on’ than a legacy.”

Speakers upheld that same legacy by reciting the names of those they had lost on 9/11, and others reflected on those lost in the battles that followed. Many thought of what the dead would say if they could speak now. A common message was to love one’s neighbor and to not let differences divide each other.

When the ceremony concluded, the flags were reboxed in a manner of minutes. An attendee solemnly noted how fast the beautiful display was made a memory.

“It’s truly an honor,” Barnes continued. “We’re truly just thankful to be here, to represent U of M, and the future of the army.”