For the Next Generation: Remember Our 9/11 Story
September 11, 2021

     “A plane hit the World Trade Center,” the Airman exclaimed as I walked into the operations center. I watched as three Airmen huddled around the television screen. 

     “What, how? How did they miss that building?”  

      “I have no idea,” he confessed. 

As Air Force communicators, we provided continuous, 24-hour monitoring at Andrews AFB, Maryland.  Trying to make sense of his words, I walked back to the operations floor. As I started to announce my findings to the team, our training instructor burst into the room.  He sprinted over to an Airmen sitting at the radio console and grabbed her chair. He halted my chastising words as he put his hand up and said, “A plane is being hijacked.” He grabbed the radio set and tried to hail the aircraft. 

We trained for aircraft emergencies. We had a checklist. So, I flagged the tapes, and we started contacting authorities. This wouldn’t be the only plane that needed our help that day. Within minutes, the radio frequencies erupted with requests. We stood amidst the chaos and tried to help those in need.  Over the next few days, friends would go to the Pentagon to recover the bodies. I watched the President speak from Ground Zero as relentless American’s recovered bodies.  In the months that followed, I deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, with so many others. We went to fight an enemy we didn’t understand. 

20 years later, I have so many questions. I have so many memories of heartache, but I also have a great hope for tomorrow. This country survived great wars. We’ve survived the invasion of Japan, the desecration of millions of Jews at the hands of Hitler. We’ve survived plagues, fires, natural disasters, and financial recessions. So, we will, I am confident, survive this as well. 

But I am afraid, as were my forefathers, that the world will forget. That the stories of the men and women who served all those years will be forgotten. That our children, and their children, generations from now, will not remember how we got here. They won’t remember the lessons we learned. As the adage says, “History repeats itself.” 

I pray that my children’s generation will remember some speck of this story. They won’t remember the feeling of fear and how it consumed us. They won’t remember the confusion and chaos as we navigated our circumstances. They won’t remember it because they didn’t live it.  They will only know the stories. Like my absent understanding when my father’s generation lost so many in the Vietnam War. Or how my grandmother navigated the aftermath of the Great Depression and WWII. I will never understand their sacrifice or pain, as our children will not understand ours. 

Years from now, I may sit at the dinner table and a grandchild will say, “What was that 9/11 thing?”  

     “It was the day the planes hit the towers in New York,” another will reply. 

     “Right, Grandma?”  Yes, it was that and so much more. The ripple caused a tidal wave of decisions and impacts that we could never understand.  

     “Grandma,” they will say, “do you remember 9/11?”   

     And I will say, “Yes, I do. Do you want to hear my story?” I will share with them the legends of the men and women who served on that faithful day. I will tell them how it felt to support the President.  I will tell them about the Airman who turned to me and said, “Sgt Castro, there is no place for these planes to land. They have no place to go.” 

     And how I looked at him and said, “Airman Smith, get on the phone and call every flight line on the East Coast. We must find a place for them to land, understand? They must come down somewhere.” 

     “Yes Ma’am” he said. And he did. 

I will relive the memories of the heroes and legends that served, for 20 years, to keep the wolves at bay.  

Those are the stories I remember. Those are the faces that keep me going on hard days. These men and women hold such a dear place of respect and reverence in my heart. They give me hope for tomorrow. 

To those lost on September 11, 2001:  May the men and women of the United States never forget your story. 

To the families of those who served for 20 years, in the name of freedom, our hearts are heavy.  May your sacrifice never, ever be forgotten.

All my love,

A Mere Patriot