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Adm. Vern Clark Recalls 9/11 Experience

By Amanda Morad | September 13, 2013

Admiral Vern Clark, USN (Ret.) recalls the events of 9/11.
Photo by Alex Perry

It's a sober day for the entire nation, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but it is especially poignant for those whose lives were spared that day 12 years ago in downtown New York City and at the Pentagon. Admiral Vern Clark, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is one of them. He recalled the events of the day at a commemorative chapel service at Regent University with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

"Isn't it amazing the difference 36 hours can make?" former President George W. Bush asked Clark on Sept. 12 as they assessed the situation. At the time, Clark was Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and was in the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into his Command Center. On Sept. 10, he and the President had both attended a ceremony celebrating the United States' friendship with Australia. It was a joyful occasion commemorating their ongoing partnership in war and in peace. The next day, America was attacked.

Clark recalled his first encounter with the President the next day soberly. "It was a no-nonsense visit; no happy talk," he said. "The President pointed his finger at each of us and said 'Don't forget what happened yesterday.' Then he made us a promise and said, 'I will never forget.'"

In the Pentagon alone, 184 men and women lost their lives; 42 of them were working in the Navy Command Center at the time of the attack. Recalling Congress singing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol building the night of the attacks, Clark reminded chapelgoers of the unity Americans found in the days and weeks following 9/11.

"Our human condition sometimes causes us to forget," Clark said. "While we commemorate this day, I think it's important for us as believers to remember how God deals with us though events like this."

He reminded the audience that it's appropriate to feel angry toward sin, and positioned the concept of terrorism as a product of a life of sin. However, he also said it's appropriate to humbly pray for the lost as well as for those who suffer.

"As people of faith, we're not immune to suffering, but because we're people of faith, our response really matters," he explained, citing John 16:33. "Our peace is in Him and not in what's dominating Google News."

"His grace is where we're supposed to find solace and hope," he said. "It's where we show the world that our trust is in God. The world is watching to see how we respond on days like these."

Clark admitted that trying to explain the reasons for suffering and tragic events such as 9/11 is futile. "We don't know why God allows these things to happen, but the effect is real: He uses events like this to draw us closer to Him .... Our challenge is to remember and not forget."

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