Tuesday, September 11, 2007


6 years ago I was a freshman in high school. I was pretty dead set on being an Air Force officer, but I was still debating whether to go AFROTC or to the Academy. My more pressing concern was getting in shape for Cross Country that fall and keeping up with my trumpet playing (I was in the marching band all four years of high school; ended up as drum major my senior year.) The morning started out normal, got to school early for marching band practice, spent the first hour and a half of my day out on the field running through our drill. I believe we were doing West Side Story that year. Had Choir after band for the next period of the day. This took me right up to 0900 CDT, or a little over an hour after the first attack on the WTC.

After Choir we had CAU, a kind of homeroom period for 15 minutes. Most teachers are pretty lax about where you are during CAU, so it was common practice for students to wander the halls to see their friends. This is when the rumors started getting out about some sort of plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers. I think most of the adults in the school were still rather clueless at this time, but my high school had and still has this thing called the laptop program where students are given the option of purchasing a laptop through the school and then using that laptop in special laptop oriented classes. It's a pretty cool deal, I did it while I was there. However, in 2001, there were only a small select group of upperclassmen who were using the laptops. They had gotten on the internet during their first couple of classes and had started to get news about the attacks.

Of course, we were way behind the news curve on this one, as by the time we were just starting to hear the news of the crash (we weren't calling it an attack yet) all the planes had struck their targets, Flight 93 was down, and the south tower had already fallen. In my CAU we didn't have the TV on. Like I said, the adults seemed to be more clueless than the students (this will become painfully obvious in a second). In the class I had after CAU (right around 0930 CDT) the teacher there had turned the TV on and I walked in just in time to see the north tower fall, live. I walked in, looked up at the TV, thought to myself "that looks an awful lot like the WTC...but why is there only one tower? Why is there all that smoke?" And then..."HOLY SHIT!" ...the north tower came down. Live. That moment is going to be etched into my memory for the rest of my life.

Inexplicably, the teacher in that classroom then turned off the TV and tried to carry on with the class. I heard later on that this was on orders from the administration to have a normal school day; I don't think they fully grasped the situation yet because later on, once it became apparent the magnitude of the attacks, all we did was watch TV coverage. In any case, that was 45 minutes of hell, wondering what the f**k had just happened. I got to my next class and here our teacher gave us a little run down of what had happened so far: WTC both collapsed, attack on the Pentagon, Flight 93, supposedly other hijacked aircraft airborne, rumored targets included the White House, Capitol Hill, etc., Air Force One had come under attack from an airliner, and a host of other rumors. He then turned on the TV and we watched the towers fall...over and over and over. We watched the towers burning. We watched the people trapped by the flames and overcome by the smoke. We watched the jumpers. We watched the Pentagon on fire. Total sensory overload. I think everyone was in shock. I remember at the time having some vague thoughts that this meant we were at war, but nothing too coherent. Then it was time for lunch.

Let the floodgates of rumor open...too many to recount, but I think the most interesting, from a psychological standpoint, was the one that Omaha was a target because of Offutt. Interesting to see the Cold War mindset at work on a most base level even among high school freshmen.

After lunch it was more of the same, watching coverage and seeing some of the rumors get cleared up while the death toll became painfully apparent, although it also became apparent that things could have been a lot worse. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the rest of the school day. When school let out, all after school activities were canceled. I was waiting outside for a ride when I heard a roar and naturally looked up (I was already a huge airplane nut; I would've looked up regardless but on this day the glance was quicker and much more...not fearful, but on guard.) I saw a 747, which to a lot of my friends didn't immediately mean anything because Offutt is home to the E-4, so a 747 painted up in a bright paint job flying out of Offutt is nothing unusual. This wasn't an E-4, though. It was, of course, Air Force One.

That's when it really hit home for me. If the President was at Offutt, that meant he was at the Stratcom (former SAC) CP buried in the ground. That meant there was some serious stuff going down. That meant we were at war. While I had no idea where or to what degree, it meant that my future career choice just got a lot more interesting.

Never forget. Never forgive. Never stop.

Make sure to check out SJS as well. He was there.