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Remembering Sept. 11; a tragic day in history

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt Homer Wilburn
  • MacDill Top III
September 11, 2001 was a day that affected our nation in a manner never before seen in our history. That Tuesday morning, four simultaneously hijacked commercial airliners became manned missiles steered toward attacking our country's vital epicenters. Momentarily it seemed the entire world came to a stand-still from the shock and disbelief of the savage, cowardice act. Two airliners intentionally driven into the towers of the World Trade Center in the heart of Manhattan, another into the headquarters of the Department of Defense just outside the nation's capital and yet another passenger jet downed in a Pennsylvania field. The number of casualties was not yet known, and the possibility of further acts of terrorism was still present. All aircraft in the skies above the United States were ordered to land immediately and no further air traffic was permitted into our air space causing numerous international flights to divert or return to their points of origin.

It seemed as though the order of the day for the general public was to stay home and stare at the television. The media reports were non-stop, there were no commercial interruptions, and the "facts" were blurry and constantly changing. The first reports were of an aircraft crashing into north tower of the Trade Center. Then when a second aircraft hit the south tower seventeen minutes later, it became obvious that this was no accident. The next report was of yet another airliner crashing into the Pentagon. By this time most of the country was tuned to the news and witnessed the first tower collapse in New York City. As the story unfolded Americans learned of the fourth hijacked aircraft and the heroic actions of the passengers who gave their lives preventing their hijackers from hitting their target. The heroism of these brave Americans led to the famous slogan "Let's roll" that is depicted on one of our aircraft assigned here at MacDill Air Force Base, aircraft 62-3562. We learned of the heroics and the loss of the first responders in the Trade Center collapse, and continued to be shocked and enraged by the rising death toll of innocent civilians from more than 90 countries.

During this significant day in our nation's history, I was attending the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Keesler AFB, Miss. We were scheduled to graduate the next day. Our class was scheduled to attend some required briefings in the main auditorium and most of us were already in-place. One of our instructors came into the room and informed us that an aircraft had just struck one of the World Trade Center towers. At this time it was not confirmed if the incident was accidental or intentional. The instructor finally managed to get the live feed from the various news networks up on the large screen monitors. When the second aircraft struck the other tower you could literally hear a pin drop in the auditorium filled with about 100 people. Our class was able to see the ensuing chaos and mayhem that was unfolding due to the tragic events, as other Americans across the nation. At this moment in my career I could not think of a single event in my life that I felt so afraid. My classmates also displayed mixed emotions some very emotional but mostly angry. We all wanted to forego our graduation and head back to our respective units in hope of either deploying or being part of some sort of military operation. Everyone came from different bases but wanted to strike back at the terrorists that gravely demoralized our nation and what this country stands for, "freedom."

Since this tragic day eight years ago, our military has been in countries around the world administering justice and fighting terrorism against the regimes that harbor and support terrorists. The KC-135R aircraft and the men and women that maintain them from MacDill AFB have been utilized ever since Sept. 11 in defense of this nation both here at home and abroad. Our civil authorities have remained vigilant, and foiled attempts within our borders to commit further atrocities. It has been a hard fought grueling war against those who have no regard for innocent life. We have made sacrifices and as citizens of this great country it is our duty to continue.

We must never forget that there are enemies of the United States who are against our way of life. They will continue to try to bring harm to us and we must remain vigilant. Our citizens must continue to keep their eyes and ears open for threats against us. Our Department of Defense and the military must continue to support and defend the Constitution and follow the orders of our leaders to implement this war. As military members we must maintain our might, readiness and capability to support President Barack Obama and follow in the direction he leads us. We can not falter in this endeavor to protect our country and its way of life, and we must not fail.