Friday, September 11, 2015

Never Forget


    My grandparents had, "Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?"
    My parents had, "Where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?"
    Sadly, I have, "Where were you on September 11th?"

    Obviously, this is a repost.  But, unlike the other repeats I inflict upon you, I make no apologies.  I will continue to post this every year.  
    Most of you have read this.  A couple haven't.  For those who have read it, please feel free to carry on.  But, never forget the day the world changed forever. 
  

    It was just before one o’clock in the afternoon on September 11th (a sad commentary: we don’t even need to identify the year anymore) when my maintenance supervisor stuck his head into my room to wake me.

    “Sir, someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”

    Minutes later, 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 forces 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 the United States.  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 cacophony 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 that 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. 

23 comments:

  1. I don't think we'll ever forget that day Al.

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    1. I truly hope it's the only such story I'll be able to tell.

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  2. No one in our generation will forget.
    Flying in such empty airspace must've been really eerie.

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    1. That, and being intercepted by that plane.

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  3. I was hoping you'd re-post this. I always enjoy reading it.

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    1. Thank you. I never wanted an "I Was There" story of my very own, but....

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  4. One re-post that deserves to be re-posted indeed. Says it all.

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    1. This and the one about Veterans Day are the only reposts I don't feel remotely bad about.
      The holidays are coming...plenty of chances to feel bad.

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  5. your post gave me chills. Indeed - I will never forget. Glad you got home safe and sound

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    1. The biggest unknown of my life, that's for sure.

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  6. I have not read this before and it is a great tribute.

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    1. The stories I won't write about are the memorial service for Bill at the Naval Academy (the casket was empty, because he was basically vaporized) and when I escorted Joe's body from Dover AFB to his home in northern New Jersey.

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  7. While it's a sad situation that we had to endure, I always enjoy reading your post of that fateful day. It makes it real and for that we must never forget!

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    1. Absolutely. Related: I accompanied Pycior's body to his home in...wait for it...New Jersey.
      No Jersey jokes. Just a sad tale.

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  8. Sven,
    Never easy to write on this day...I remember Bill, not just today, but often - same as you, I believe. I work (well, same building) with Dave Erickson, who was Gun Boss, I think. Pointed him to this site today, he mentioned remembering you and Wild Bill doing skits in the Wardroom...
    Kmart

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    1. I miss working with Bill. I remember Elaine and Susan warning us not to poke fun at Mal Branch's dog, Jose (I think) at his Farewell Dinner ("Parade the Beef!"). We ignored their advice and kept the bit in. Mal and Nancy laughed. Good times. Really miss the guy.

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    2. Incidentally, that cropped picture of Bill is when I asked him to pin my JG bars on. His left arm is holding up my collar. Mal is on the other side.
      The cropped picture of Pycior is from a group photo of the ASWMOD on GW's hangar deck.

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  9. The pearl harbor and JFK thing had me thinking, I hope the next generation doesn't have one of their own

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  10. Well written, Ken. Really beautiful. We lived in Maryland, very close to Camp David. F-16s flew over our house every fifteen minutes. I was grateful for them.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. It was the day my military career ceased to be just a regular job for me.

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  11. This resonates. It's a perspective on 911 I haven't read before. Thank you.

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