More than 30 people gathered at the Fallen Soldier Memorial at the University of Montana Saturday to recognize the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks with a brief speech delivered by UM President Seth Bodnar.

“That day we saw tragedy, we felt heartache, we saw incredible loss, and we saw incredible acts of heroism at the same time,” Bodnar said in a speech after the presentation of colors by the UM Army ROTC Color Guard.

A solemn crowd gathered around the 43 plaques dedicated to Montanans who lost their lives in service in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, with many people wearing Griz gear in preparation for the afternoon’s season-opening home game. Multiple families attended the event, including children born years after the attacks occurred.

Bodnar highlighted his military experience in his speech. He graduated from West Point Military Academy in 2001, just two months before the tragic day. He then served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division as a platoon leader in Iraq, and later as a special forces officer.

“The military gave me many opportunities, and I felt very fortunate for the experience I got,” Bodnar said. “So when I see 9/11 I appreciate the heroic acts done that day and the decades after, many of which I saw firsthand.” 

Bodnar also addressed personal connections with some of the soldiers commemorated on the memorial’s plaques. Andrew Pearson, a graduate from Billings Senior High School, studied at West Point during the same time as Bodnar. Pearson was killed by an explosive device while driving in Iraq in 2008.

“Andrew was standing within 50 yards of me in that football field at West Point in 2001. We graduated together and we were in the same company at West Point,” Bodnar said in his speech.

The ceremony concluded with an invitation to the public to lay roses next to each of the memorial’s plaques, as well as the performance of “Taps” by UM student Cooper Jurasin.

“My grandfather was in the air force,” Jurasin said. “He always instilled in me since I picked up the trumpet that if I ever had the chance to play ‘Taps,’ I should take it and play it with the same gravity every time I pick up my trumpet.”

According to the Costs of War Project, a team of researchers at Brown University that study post-9/11 deaths, 2,996 people died on Sept. 11, 2001. An estimated 900,000 lives were lost in the various military conflicts in the decades after.

“I try to emphasize the importance of the memory of those we lost and serve as a reminder of their bravery and their service. I just always try to help our community remember,” Bodnar said.