Keesler members recount 9/11 memories

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The morning of 9/11 was different for every American, many of whom were not yet in military service.

With thirteen years having passed since, there are Airmen with younger and younger memories of that horrifying, historic day. Every member of Team Keesler has a unique experience, coming from various parts of the country.

"The morning of 9/11 was my second day of freshman year attending Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, New York," Capt. Catherine Torres, 334th Training Squadron. "Being a Catholic school, students met after first period in homeroom for announcements and a school-wide prayer."

"By that time the first aircraft had hit the tower, my principal reported the little news he had, and asked us to pray for all the souls on board. My classmates and I looked at each other in confusion, thinking it silly for a small Cessna not to see the large buildings. It did not cross our young naïve minds that someone would intentionally drive an airliner into a building on purpose."

The youth of the nation were spread over different time zones during the attack. Some were in schools, some at home, maybe on vacation, away from family, or even preparing for a day of celebration.

"I was at home with my family, looking forward to dinnertime because we were going out to celebrate," said Staff Sgt. Dennis Grube, 334th TRS. "The day it happened was my 16th birthday. My grandmother called me to wish me a happy birthday, and simultaneously told me to turn on the TV to any news channel."

"The next few hours consisted of my family looking at what I assume everyone was looking at; the smoke and flames coming out of the first tower. We were watching when the second plane hit, too."

Eventually, the horror of reality crept over us all, on television sets in every living room, work place, class room.

"I was in 10th grade on Sept. 11, 2001," said Staff Sgt. Garrett Bullington, 81st Security Forces Squadron. "I can remember waking up in the morning for school and hearing my dad yelling at the TV as the planes hit the towers. It felt like a nightmare, like it couldn't be real. In school that day all the TVs were on covering the story. I just remember a lot of crying, a lot of sadness."

The uncertainty was palpable, in the areas of attack and beyond, as Americans tried to understand exactly what was taking place.

"Students were desperately dialing their parents, uncles, aunts, cousins: not only those who worked in the towers, but in the Financial District and members of the fire and police departments," said Torres.

"Lunch time was solemn, we passed one another with hopeful looks, not knowing what was going to happen or who may have lost a loved one. We were released early on account of the public transportation being shut down in most of the city. I boarded a yellow bus filled over capacity with students piled into seats and standing in the aisle."

"I arrived home to find my mother in tears, glued to the television, watching as a sturdy steel building came crashing down into twisted steel and sand. At the time I did not understand how it was possible, I did not understand how such hatred can exist in the world, I did not understand why."

The fervor sparked by 9/11 events was instantaneous in some.

"This event had a huge impact on my military service," said Bullington. "The weekend after the attack is when I decided I was going to join the military. I couldn't join fast enough.

"I joined after 9/11 because I knew it was the right thing to do. Our nation was under attack and I felt like I had to do my part. Both my grandfathers served in WWII, so serving our country runs in my family veins."

And whether it directly affected military service, 9/11 has left a last impression on us all. Its yearly memorial day is both a harsh reminder and an opportunity for mourning.

"I'm sure people who share my birthday would agree that it's a weird feeling," said Grube. "I mean for 15 years it was just a day. A day we celebrated, where family gathered and had fun and ate food. Then one year it changed."

"I still get comments from time to time, but not as often as before. I don't know if that's a good thing or not though. Is it a good thing that people are moving past the event? While I believe we shouldn't forget what happened completely, I think it's right that we don't hold something that triggers so much bitterness and anger and negative feelings so close to the surface."

Our response to 9/11 should be of respect for the lives lost, honor to those heroes, and with a vow to uphold our own core values in response to terrorist atrocities.

"It was the day I pledged that I would do my best to ensure my children would not have to live in a world with such evil, that I would do my best to alleviate cruelty and promote humanity," said Torres. "I'm trying to fulfill that pledge."

"I feel extremely humbled when my friend who lost his firefighting uncle thanks me for my service. I tell him I wish I could thank his uncle."