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Modified for the September 11 War

Editor’s Note: Permission is granted for general reprinting/copying of this article. Appropriate modification of the actual ceremony may be done. Both the author and THE SUBMARINE REVIEW encourage others to use this method to commemorate America’s sacrifice and determination.

As I spent the weeks trying to absorb the horror of the terrorist attacks this past September, I regretted that I was no longer serving on active duty, as I had previously for twenty years. There, I would at least have had the possibility of venting some anger and frustration through being a part of appropriately targeted tomahawk launches. However, having retired from the Submarine Force eight years ago, I desperately needed to find some sort of activity to again serve our nation-to do something to help-as I watched the country struggle under the pall of this momentous threat to freedom. I found one small way to help some by bringing an old submarine force tradition to my local neighborhood here in the heartland of southeastern Indiana.

The membership at my local American Legion Post 452 had determined to help the victims of September 11 by using their previously-scheduled upcoming dance evening as a fundraiser for the American Red Cross. With a suggestion from me, they also decided that it seemed appropriate to conduct some sort of patriotic ceremony during the dance in the interest of supporting and encouraging patriotism in our small country community.

I remembered from my service in the Submarine Force having been present at several events that included the Tolling of the Bell ceremony for lost submarines and shipmates. The mood I remembered from those ceremonies seemed a perfect fit for the present situation.

I searched the web for examples of words that could be modified for this ceremony. While looking for examples of wording through web pages of Submarine Force history, I was surprised to find examples of that tradition being used even beyond the Navy. One example I read about discussed the use of a Tolling of the Bell ceremony in Texas during a Remember the Alamo birthday.

The best example of wording I located on the web was from the transcript of a speech given in 1996 by Captain Bill Weisensee. I began with his words, and modified and updated them to try to capture the current situation and needs in our country today. The text was broadened to include a memorial of civilians as well as military lost in the terrorist attacks, and the call to remembrance expanded to include the civilian arm of our homeland defense forces as well as all branches of the military now engaged in this new war. I presented the idea and words of the ceremony to the Post membership, and they all loved the idea, though few had even heard of such a thing before.

Before the dance, an appropriate bell was borrowed from a nearby farm, and arrangements were made for a neighboring Post to provide their funeral detail Color Guard to assist us. The Legion members were in their uniforms. We conducted our Tolling of the Bell ceremony using the script below after the band’s first break. A local trio sang the National Anthem (at the point shown in the script.) The ceremony was very well received by all members and guests at the dance. Most present had never seen or heard of anything like this. Many of those present expressed strong feelings of having been moved by the ceremony.

The script is presented here for use by any familiar with the tradition. Such a ceremony could be conducted in any number of public forums- civic organizations, public meetings, corporate gatherings, etc. Its value is in helping sustain patriotism and national pride, as well as the reaffirming of commitments by the attendees evoked through the words in the ceremony. From comments I heard from neighbors and friends who were present, I believe the words can render salve to some Americans who are privately hurting, provide hope to others, and strengthen resolve in the value of our liberty.


The Color Guard is called to post the colors, going to PARADE
(OPTIONAL: If available, a spotlight is shined on the U.S. Flag and other lights dimmed.)
The bell remains silent until directed further on, the reader begins reading:

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” So wrote the 16th century poet, John Donne, in his sonnet: “No Man is an Island.”

Throughout the history of our country, the village church has called the faithful to worship by ringing a bell that could be heard throughout the countryside. At other times this same bell rang out to herald important community announcements or to alert the people to some danger or calamity.

Our tolling of the bell ceremony will begin shortly. In an age of satellite navigation and instantaneous communications, where villages have grown to become huge cities, this ceremony may seem little more than an historical curiosity. But it is much more to those of us that have sailed on and beneath the seas, or marched on foreign lands, or flown in enemy skies in defense of freedom.

It remains an expression of grief and remembrance-calling out to comrades and loved ones who gave their lives in defense of freedom. For long years our entire planet was engaged in a fierce struggle between those who loved liberty and those who were devoted to tyranny. For most of that period the situation was dire and the outcome uncertain. Our entire nation, civilian and military, embarked on a supreme effort to tum the tide and we found willing allies among the freedom-loving people on earth.

We now find ourselves faced again with the challenge …..

(As the reader pauses, the bell now begins tolling slowly, solemnly, about once every several seconds until the end of the reading. The beginning of bell tolling is the cue for the color guard to come to A’ITENTION. After about the first three introductory tolls of the bell, the reader continues reading … )

This bell tolls a tribute to those businessmen and women, janitors, children, moms and dads, executives and secretaries, military officers and enlisted , policemen and firemen, and all of the thousands of citizens of this great nation who were lost on September 11.

The bell tolls our sorrow for those lost in Pennsylvania, Washington and New York; but it also tolls our determination to remember and reaffirm the following three things :

  • First, that freedom is not free and citizens that are not willing or able to personally pay its price can only be made free-and kept free-by the exertions of those willing to serve in our armed forces, public offices, and law enforcement and intelligence agencies. One of the best examples I know of God’s special providence for America is the way he continues to raise up, in each generation, patriots willing to risk all to guarantee the blessing of liberty to their country-men. This bell tolls a tribute to those currently on the front line of defending our freedom in the new war.
  • Secondly, the American veterans who purchased our peace in the past, and the soldiers, sailors, and airmen, agents and public servants who go forth again today to again pay the price, must never be forgotten. A nation that cares for those who have borne the heaviest burdens of citizenship in battle will never lack for a new generation to dare greatly in the cause of freedom. The bell calls a new generation to serve in defense of freedom , whether that be in the armed forces or government organizations engaged in the battle.
  • And finally, the bell tolls to remind us that, in the words of Thoas Jefferson, “the price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.” On the day that the first man disobeyed his creator, the world became a very dangerous place, never more so than today. One day God “will make all wars cease.” But until he does, the bell calls us to take watch and remain alert. After three more final tolls, the bell falls silent.

(OPTIONAL: The silencing of the bell is the cue for the Color Guard to come to PRESENT ARMS, followed by a song leader leading in the singing of the National Anthem, or alternatively, a soloist singing it. Upon completion, the Color Guard returns to ATTENTION.)

The ceremony is ended as the Color Guard retires the colors.

(The author will send the words electronically to any who so desires. Send requests to


Floyd R. Corteville
Dr. Franz Hoskins CAPT Walter J. Kraus, USN(Ret.)
LT John H. Mullin, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Glen Sieve, USN(Ret.)
TMC(SS) John N. Thornton, Jr., USN(Ret.)

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