Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11th

  The following is a repost from last year.  
  It doesn't contain any Penwasser "ha-ha's" or pull my finger jokes because none of what happened that September morning was funny.  If you haven't read it, please read.  If you read it last year, please read it again.  And if you don't think our world changed forever 11 years ago, read it a third time. 
  I'll be back in a couple days.  
  I promise.

     It's my generation's "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" moment.  
    Just before one o’clock in the afternoon on September 11th (a sad commentary: we don’t even need to identify the year anymore), my maintenance supervisor stuck his head into my room to wake me as I snoozed away in preparation for the night shift.
    “Sir, someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”
    Not soon after, I watched, horrified, as a second plane struck the South tower.  And then, as both of the monstrously huge structures tumbled to the ground as if kicked by a petulant child.
    My unit and I were participating in a multi-nation exercise at the Naval Air Station in Keflavik, Iceland (this explains why it was the afternoon).  A round-the-clock operation, the "Keflavik Tactical Exchange" gave us a unique chance to evaluate each other’s capabilities should we ever needed to flex our respective militaries.  
    Little did we know that we were preparing for a type of war which belonged to the past.
    Because the 21st Century came roaring into each of our lives on that late summer day.
    Naturally, the exercise was immediately cancelled.  Foreign aircrews (funny that I call them “foreign” since we were actually foreigners, too) beat hasty returns to their home bases.  We were told that American airspace was closed for an indefinite time.
    Station security went into their highest readiness posture.  Watch teams at the main gate beefed up, rings of barbed wire cordoned off perceived sensitive areas, and armed patrols roamed the perimeter.
    My watch teams and I, on the other hand, remained at our billeting.  Only in Iceland for the exercise, we were considered non-essential personnel who’d only get in the way.
    And so we spent the next few days.
    I received a worried phone call from my wife during this time.  She fretted over my safety.  I assured her that I was fine, but omitted the fact that I was more concerned for her and the kids.
    You see, my family lives only a couple hours from New York and only a few from Washington.
    The ensuing few days was a frantic search for whatever updates we could glean from the news and how in the world we’d get ourselves and thousands of pounds of equipment back home.
    Most importantly, we desperately wanted to know how we could get into the fight.  Whatever the fight was.
    Four days later, U.S. airspace was opened to military traffic.  As I glanced through the window of the Navy patrol plane which took us home, I was struck at how empty the sky was-with the exception of the one plane which approached us as we crossed into United States airpsace.  It came no closer than a few miles before it disappeared.
    I think it was a fighter aircraft.
    What’s more, the radio circuits, normally full of the chatter of countless air traffic controllers, were eerily silent.  The only ones “on the air” were the handful which guided us home.  All else were hushed into silence.
    Our route of flight took us just south of Manhattan, well out of sight of land.  At that distance, even at the altitude at which we were flying, it was impossible to see any of the city skyline.
    But, we did see a huge pall of gray-brown smoke lingering in the air like the death shroud it was.
    As we touched ground at the air station we called home, there was nobody to greet us.  There was really not much of anything by way of an acknowledgment that we were back.  Somehow, it seemed fitting.
    After all, we all had something much more important to do.
    Go home to our families.

In memory of:
Commander Bill Donovan, USN
AW2 (NAC/AW) Joseph Pycior, USN
and the thousands whose only crime was going to work that day. 


  1. Beautiful Al, it's still as incredible and awesome as it was last year. The last few lines about going home to your families gave me chills. I know that everybody says that they'll never forget what they were doing on the day of 9/11 and you've got a particularly interesting story surrounding that.

    "the thousands whose only crime was going to work that day," moves me, these attacks were unfair and unjust and just sick, great tribute Al.

  2. The world has changed, and I'm sorry but it mostly seems to be for the worst. I have nothing but respect for anyone involved with the rescue though, and I deeply regret the senseless loss of life.

  3. Excellent tribute! Such a tragic day and at times it seems longer than 11 years ago. This actual day still gives me chills when I think about all of the families who lost loved ones.

  4. Somehow I missed this last year. Thank you for sharing your experience. What do I say? Bless you.

  5. This is a very moving post, nobody should ever forget what happened on that day.

  6. Very moving. Its nice to see your serious side.

  7. I'm glad you re-posted this, Al. It was heart wrenching. Thank you for your service to our country and I'm sorry for losses.

  8. Being serious once and a while doesn't hurt, sad day indeed, I remembered it from last year too, I guess youth has it's perks haha

  9. Thank you for sharing this, Al.

  10. Thank you for being there for us. Thank you for being ready to go. My oldest son was 13 days old on 9/11. For some reason, the fact that this new human was my responsibility hit hardest when I saw what I had to protect him from.

    God Bless the USA.

  11. I still remember hearing about it in my 8th grade english class

  12. This was beautifully written and appropriately somber. Thanks so much, Al. I'm sorry for your losses.

    Hugs and blessings to you,

  13. Thanks for sharing this with us. I read it twice. I just might read it again.

  14. This was a powerful tribute Al. I'm so sorry for your loss, and your last line said it best. Thank goodness you made it home safely to your family, as you were all on pins and needles worrying about each other. Julie

  15. Wow, I can't imagine how that was for you and those in the armed forces. Wow! On another note, I've never thought about air traffic before or what it would be like for there to be none like that. I was different back in 2001, so I didn't think much back then! :/

  16. @Matthew: It really has been a turning point in world history.
    @Mark: I agree with you.
    @JKIRF: It's amazing the teenagers of today were babies and little kids over a decade ago. They have no real sense of what happened-they grew up in the post-911 world. And that's sad.
    @Sheila: Thank you!
    @Laura: I hope they don't.
    @Bersercules: I usually keep it hidden, but there's no kidding about this (unfortunately, the same could be sad for countless other things).
    @Elsie: Amazing how I still get a little weepy when I think of my friends (and the friends and families of others) who were lost that day and since. Senseless wastes of human lives all over the world....
    @Pat: One of the biggest perks of youth is that the young have very little recollection of that day. But, the sad part (as I've said) is that they've only known a world where you have to take your shoes off before boarding a plane.

  17. @Dana: You're welcome. I'd say it was my pleasure, but...
    @Mary A: And it's a very harsh world out there.
    @Adam: I can only imagine what it was like for schoolkids.
    @Robyn: Thank you.
    @Stephen: It was a pretty awful experience. And, since I just finished 'A World Lit Only By Fire' (fanTASTic book-thanks for the recommendation), it saddens me that barbarity (especially barbarity in the name of God) is not a modern phenomenon. I hope it gets better, but I'm thinking there's not much chance of that.
    @Julie: Families are where it's actually at.
    @MB: The absolute silence on the air waves was one of the creepiest facets of a surreal experience.

  18. This is our generations Pearl Harbor.

    The eeriness and silence in the air that day was overwhelming. We all felt so violated.

    1. I know it sounds cliche (which I guess it is) but it was surreal.

  19. Great post and a fantastic tribute Al. I wish I would have read this one before i read the following post. What a day that was. It was so crazy. I remember my daughter called me into the living room because a plane had crashed into the world trade center. Then when the second plane hit it, I had all these feelings rushing into me and didn't know what to do with them. Kinda like how I'm feeling at this exact moment.