Remembering the September 11 Attacks

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- We all remember where we were when we heard the terrible news.  I was on active duty orders at Tyndall participating in a North American Aerospace Defense Command exercise. Most people assumed the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center was an accident.  I wasn't sure -my thoughts were with my brother on the 84th floor of the South Tower.

I called Adam and shared what I later realized was our final conversation. A tragic, drama unfolded before my brother's eyes. He told me of the terrible sights he saw from his window -- of men and women jumping to their deaths from the North Tower. He told me of desperate people at windows contemplating their fate - jump, or burn.

Over the phone, I heard the commotion of his co-workers and listened to their responses as they watched fellow humans leap to their deaths. I heard the urgency in my brother's voice too. His last words to me were, "I gotta go." As he hung up I quickly interjected, "Go home!"  I don't know if he heard me. I never talked to him again.

Then came the second crash -- and with it, the terrible confirmation that this was no accident. This was an attack. Our NORAD exercise ended and we were in "real-world ops."

When another airliner slammed into the southwest side of the Pentagon minutes later, it was clear our country and our way of life were under attack. In the terrorist's hands, airliners that normally carry families and business travelers became deadly guided missiles, aimed at the symbols of our democracy.
· More than 3,000 people were massacred.

· Approximately 2,000 children lost a parent.

· 184 people died and 146 children lost a parent in the Pentagon attacks.

· 343 firefighters and 60 police officers perished at the World Trade Center.

· One business alone lost more than 700 employees, leaving at least 50 pregnant widows.

The carnage might have been even worse, if not for the courageous acts of passengers aboard Flight 93.  Todd Beamer and his fellow passengers summoned the courage to challenge the terrorists who'd commandeered their plane.  Their final words before they took on the terrorists had become a rallying cry:  "Let's roll." 

Flight 93 slammed into a Pennsylvania field instead of the terrorists' intended target.  That target, many now believe, was the White House. 

The patriots of Sept. 11 were our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our sons and daughters.  They were our friends, our colleagues, our loved ones.  And we mourn the loss of each and every one of them, because, unlike the enemies of America, we value every human life.

Because we cannot forget the images of 9/11, we should re-commit ourselves to defending our nation. We should never forget the stories of courage and heroism of the rescuers who ran up the stairs of a towering inferno while others scrambled to get out. And I will never forget the courage my brother Adam showed as he assisted rescuers leading people to safety. Nor will I forget the terrible price he paid for being an American.

The terrorists wanted to topple the U.S. government the way they took down the twin towers.  They wanted to cripple our military power by attacking the Pentagon. They did not succeed.

America's strength is built on much more than steel, stone and brick.  America is built on ideas, hopes, and dreams that we have cherished for generations. 

America has a profound respect for true heroism -- the kind shown by police and firefighters who risk their lives to save others, and the kind shown by the men and women of our armed forces who go in harm's way to defend our freedoms.

People like Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, who subdued a gunman aboard an Amsterdam-to-Paris train, have proven there is no "safe job" in the military. Stone, a medic, has proven the fight is not over - even if we're on vacation.

We were all transformed by 9/11. We can only hope our actions, in and out of uniform, will be worthy of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us.