Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Day the World Changed

My apologies to those who've read this repost.

"Where were you when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor?"    
Despite jibes from my kids, I'm not that old.  In fact, my mother wasn't even in kindergarten yet.

     But, I can answer these...
    "Where were you when John Kennedy was assassinated?"
    "Where were you when Robert Kennedy was murdered?"
    "Where were you when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was martyred?" 
    "Where were you when John Lennon was killed?"
    "Where were you when Ronald Reagan was shot?"
    "Where were you when the Challenger exploded?"

    and, perhaps most tragically, I knew exactly where I was when the world changed forever...  
All my friends wanted to do was put in a day at work.
And then go home to see their families.

    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 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

AW1 (NAC/AW) Joseph Pycior, USN

and the thousands whose only crime was going to work that day. 


  1. Deserves a repost every year indeed. Nothing more needs to be said.

  2. Insightful piece Al, the world definitely changed for the worse that day.

  3. I'll never forget how empty the skies were after that day. We lived near an airport yet no planes were in the sky. Haunting.

  4. I'm tearful now. Thank you. I appreciate you and that you share the depth of your emotions. I'm otherwise at a loss for words.

  5. My dad was a recent college graduate on Pearl Harbor Day. It wasn't long before he married my mom, enlisted in the Army Air Corps, and became a flight instructor. I don't know where I was when President Kennedy was killed because I was four years old, but I remember the funeral procession playing over and over on the TV. My dad explained to me about the riderless horse. I know where I was when all the other events occurred. 9/11 was my daughter's first day of her sophomore year in high school in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We lived very close to Camp David. I was not afraid because the F-16s flew over our house constantly. I knew they were there to protect us because of our proximity to unnamed persons who stayed at Camp David.


  6. T his is beautiful, yet sad, post. I was at work when this happened and all day, all i wanted to do was to get home. I watched some specials that were on including Frontline about an FBI agent who was consumed with Bin Laden. Due to his working style and,as one friend and colleague put it, had "sharp shoulders" he was dealing with office politics. He ended up working at the World Trade Centre and died on 9/11. The night before he told his FBI friend that he knows something big will happen and soon due to all the info he had on Bin laden but no one in the FBI would listen. It was very sad to hear this. My mom and my dad remembered where they were for all those events

  7. Nothing wrong with a repost, I did enjoy this touching and moving post I was at home on that terrible day as we your 11th was out 10th so it was our daughters birthday and I was busy giving presents and trying to get the girls off to school.