Sept. 11 - a time to remember

  • Published
  • By Geoff Janes
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
When Sept. 11 rolls around every year, I find myself again trying to put to rest the ghosts that resonate like church bells across the English countryside in my mind.

It's been nine years since I heard our videographer Roland Leach call out from the studio at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and we all crammed into a tiny room to watch as news of an airplane crashing into one of the twin towers in New York played out on the TV screen.

Then we watched the second plane hit, and it became obvious that it wasn't some sort of an accident. Roland frantically started calling first his wife's cell phone then her hotel room just blocks from the World Trade Center. As the base locked down and the events of the day unfolded in New York, a Pennsylvania field and the Pentagon, things got very confusing in our public affairs office.

We continued to watch as the towers burned. Video of people falling or leaping to their deaths played over and over then cut to aerial views of the field in Shanksville, Pa., then to the emergency responders at the Pentagon.

It was bedlam.

The schools began releasing kids from local schools to their parents, and no one was allowed to enter or exit the base. Sitting on needles waiting to see what was coming next, we prepared our local press releases, answered phone calls and watched as television reporters tried to make sense of what was happening.

It was a life-changing experience that not everyone was quite absorbing yet. But they would.

A friend of mine had moved to the Pentagon years prior, and I tried calling his office and his home only to find out that he had recently moved to a base in Virginia. It was a relief to hear his voice. Roland finally got in touch with his wife too. She and others she was travelling with were relocating.

When our commanding general came into our office, we listened attentively as he discussed what was going on and our public affairs officer discussed our guidance from Air Force Public Affairs - it was overwhelming to say the least. When we were finally released for the day, I can't really describe the feelings I had driving home.

It was numbness, almost a failure to register what I had witnessed throughout the day.

When I got home my wife and I sat down with our kids and discussed what had happened and ensured them they were safe in the most age-appropriate way we could.

Later, we discussed it amongst ourselves as we watched the news and more video footage was being released. The next morning radio shows were filled with calls from people discussing their feelings about what had happened - anger, heartache and loss.

I remember listening to an older lady crying as she drew parallels to Pearl Harbor, and how she thought she would never live long enough to see something so horrible happen again. I stopped at a red light and as I looked around I saw three words on a Marquee sign in front of a gas station - God Bless America.

It hit me in an instant and the emotions broke through whatever mental dam I had built, and I shed a tear for the tragedy which had befallen my country. Afterwards, I began to feel differently. As the days passed I realized I wasn't the only one.

Something started to happen - people started waking up.

Patriotism started to replace sadness. It wasn't just anger, but strength and unity started to emerge. There were tiny American flags attached to people's car antennas. There wasn't a single marquee in front of the businesses in town that didn't have some message of patriotism.

Yes, it's been nine years since that September day when 19 hijackers took nearly 3,000 victims from more than 70 countries to their deaths. But nine years isn't enough to soften the blow. And it hasn't been nearly long enough for the memory of what happened to fade.

As members of Team Mildenhall gathered today at the 9/11 memorial, the grey sky seemed to accentuate the somber tone of the ceremony. The sound of taps seemed to envelope the crowd, and there was pride and purpose in the proceedings.

Observances like the one I just attended are important. It's a needed reminder, and if it can keep the memories - regardless how painful - strong in our minds, hopefully our resolve will never falter.