WILKES-BARRE (WOLF) -- Across our area and the nation people are commemorating one of the darkest days in American history.
17 years ago, Islamic extremists from the terrorist group Al Qaeda hijacked four planes.
Two crashed into the world trade center towers in New York City.
One crashed into the Pentagon.
And one crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
Tuesday in a ceremony Wilkes University service members recall that tragic day, while learning from the past to better serve the future.
"They can't take this freedom that we have for granted. Freedom isn't free. But it's worth fighting for," said Retired Lt. Col. and Wilkes University Professor Mark Kaster.
September 11th, 2001.
"2,996 American's lives were taken, and over 6,000 more were injured," said Major David Suszko.
A day most of us remember.
"We watched in horror as another plane burst through the second tower," said Suszko.
"I was working out of the air staff that day, preparing for a meeting in the Pentagon. I was there. I saw it. I felt it. I smelled the smoke," said Kaster.
"I think of that day and I think of our friend, 'G-Man' we called him, and what he must have gone through in his final hour," said Wilkes University President Patrick F. Leahy, whose Georgetown University classmate was working at the World Trade Center the day of the attack.
"I couldn't believe that there were people out there that wanted such bad things to happen," recalled Air Force Cadet and Wilkes University student Brian McKenna.
He was only five years old at the time.
"It was a normal day like everyone else would tell you, and then just confusion... the teachers all left the room, and then before I know it, all my classmates were starting to head home."
As a kindergartener, McKenna drew a photo of what he saw.
"As a nation, it doesn't matter if you were 5 or 55. Everyone did a lot of growing up that day, and really, it was sobering that day," he said.
Now, as a Cadet, McKenna believes the words he wrote then more than ever: "Never give up."
"Next year is the starting year we're going to have college freshman coming in who weren't even alive when this event happened, so we want to make sure that something like this never happens again, but that we also learn from it and never forget it," McKenna said.
"What we can learn from this is we should treat each other better because the sacrifices that have been made for us should teach us that we're all important, and we should be respectful of each other, and be kind, and have empathy," said Kaster.
"Time heals. Grief softens. And people can be reborn," said President Leahy.
The Wilkes University Air Force Detachment presented a flag of honor to the school, listing all nearly three thousand victims of 9/11.