PAUPACK TWP. - Monday was a day in which Americans near and afar gathered to remember and honor those who perished in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the years that followed.

At Wallenpaupack Lake Estates, Captain Lee Roberts, an American Muslim and graduate of West Point spoke of his family’s service to the nation and what has come following the terrorist attacks that were comparable to Pearl Harbor because of the deadly outcome he said.   

Monday was the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that left an unprecedented mark on Americans. In order for the terrorists to succeed, Roberts said a divide had to happen amongst Americans, but they truly faltered because from such instances Americans profoundly unite and vowed to “never forget.” With his West Point classmates, they echoed the thought with “always remember, never surrender.”

Growing up in Washington D.C., Roberts was a junior in high school when the attacks occurred and while his parents were safe, he did have classmates whose parents worked in the Pentagon. They did not die, but many other parents did he noted. The day was “symbolic” as many watched the live footage of United Flight 175 fly into the south tower. The shock and disbelief of everything was signified because the twin towers were “living monuments to American leadership and a maturing global system” said Roberts. 

Roberts’s mother, Hadia said to him ‘let it not be people who call themselves Muslim who are behind this.’ That was a shared hope of American Muslim families that would later be ruined he said.  

The human lives lost as well as forever changed from the attacks went on to begin the “global war on terror” said Roberts, because 2 million service members have been deployed with nearly 7,000 dying and 50,000 injured. Even after serving, the wounds are everlasting as the servicemen try to move on, but are unable and so, they commit suicide. The suicides count for more soldiers’ deaths than when in combat he said.   

The path he has traveled thus far, Roberts said was “paved by giants” who were “tireless national servants.” But, he did have his parents as role models as his father served more than 30 years as a US Foreign Service Officer and Defense Intelligence Analyst. As well, his mother was an FBI linguist for seven years and she worked continuously to fight terrorism until passing from cancer.

Initially after high school Roberts considered continuing a career teaching taekwondo near his home. But after the terrorist attacks, he decided his “goal” was in “national service” since he would be able to use his “upbringing to bear for my country” he said. It was from the holidays he spent with members of the US military, that Roberts’s respect for servicemen was founded.

In the army, Roberts said he figured it would be there that he would have the greatest role in addressing the conflict while also having a career that would allow him the opportunities to use his “interpersonal advantages” that resulted from his childhood and so, he decided to become an officer. While at West Point Roberts, who is a practicing Muslim became the conductor of a Jewish chapel choir and in 2006 the choir sang holiday chorales at the White House.

Colonel Dan Braun, who is a resident in WLE mentored Roberts and guided him as he worked to attend West Point. Over the years he has helped several “young people” and there are two currently in the service academy that are WLE residents Braun said.    

Braun read a letter from Rabbi Harvey Abramowitz who said during difficult times skin color, national origin, language, religion and gender mean nothing because it is then that people see the “very best” of others. And that “good will” is what should be commemorated during 9/11 services as people move past the “distrust” of others because such memorials remind people of the “best that is in all of us.”  

Serving, Roberts said is “forged courage” that is “held aloft by love of country of generations of Americans.”  As Roberts spoke Monday, the setting was all but silent, except the few birds singing from nearby trees.

As the end of his first decade of service as an officer is near, Roberts has found himself thinking about the “meaning of never surrender” because fear of Islam has grown in the country. All total, Roberts said there are 10,000 Muslim Americans serving, not just in the military but in their communities as well.

Despite the many casualties from the September 11, terrorist attacks, Roberts said labeling specific Americans continues to be an effort of the terrorists, but he refuses to “answer hate with hate.” Instead, he is confident that Americans are “far stronger, far more compassionate and decent than we are afraid.” He concluded that with roads paved by the brave who were courageous and caring, people must “always remember, never surrender.”