September 11th: Where Were You, Where Are You?

It’s difficult to remember, but hard to forget: where were you when the World Trade Center fell? And as importantly, where are you now?

The first question takes you back to a time that’s growing dimmer, but no less painful. The shared stunned looks where there were seldom looks exchanged: at a stoplight, from one car to another, the look of incredulity between drivers as if to say, “what just happened to us?” There was, for that moment, an “us” between random strangers struck at the same time by the horrific events as they unfolded.

Then the common denominator that mattered was both the pain of reality and our citizenship in a nation under attack. For me at that moment, sitting in a flight simulator giving flight training to a new copilot who would in short order be furloughed as a direct result of the 9-11 attacks that ravaged my airline and ultimately, the entire industry, the reality was ugly: jets commandeered, fellow crewmembers murdered at their duty stations. Our sleek, beautiful, powerful jets which we always used for good turned into missiles by dark forces intent on bad.

I’ve always liked the fact that our jets carry the flag on every tail, that our name says “American” in bold letters. And even though that’s probably why our jets were selected by the terrorists for maximum psychological impact, that very fact was also their downfall.

The flag and all things American were reinvigorated from the east coast of this nation to the west. More than just a glance between stunned drivers at a stoplight, the entire nation seemed to rise in dedicated opposition to the terrorism and extremism that cost thousands of innocent American lives.

Several flight crewmembers I know decided to be done with flying as a result of the infamous attacks, and I don’t fault them for that. It’s not like when we were in the military, where it was accepted as a fact that yes, you could get killed flying a mission. Our 9-11 colleagues weren’t on a military mission–they were just doing their jobs when they were murdered.

But there was never any question, at least for me, about getting back into the cockpit and flying again, even knowing that the terrorist threat still existed. It’s a different world now in flight, with security being a constant challenge to a degree unheard of before 9-11. Maybe that’s one positive change, although working under such a threat has changed the profession in ways I don’t always like.

But I believe my part in the opposition of terrorism is to refuse to let the dark forces win. We will fly coast to coast because we can, we want to, we have to. We don’t bow to threats and violence, as a nation or as a flight crew. We fight back for what’s right–which brings us to where we are today.

The fight goes on, and with it comes a huge pricetag in lives and loss. That’s the part of where we are today in the post-9/11 world that worries me.

Because except for on the anniversary of that awful day, there’s little day-to-day remembrance of the important people: not only the thousands whose lives were taken on that day, but also those given since then to keep the rest of the nation safe. That, in my mind, should not be something to “remember” periodically. Rather, that should never be forgotten–ever.

We see the remains of fallen fighting men and women passing from one coast to a hometown on our jets every week. We honor them the best we can. And like most flight crewmembers, we keep alive the memory of colleagues who were killed in the first battle of the war against terrorism.

Never mind the partisan politics of the war on terrorism; the squabbles over the mosque near ground zero, or opposition to the war on terrorism.

Today is about remembrance and appreciation for those fighting the war, those who have lost their lives to the enemy and those carrying on the fight today. That’s what’s most important to me and to many others on this day of remembrance . . .

. . . and every single day of the year, in every single moment in the air.

5 Responses to “September 11th: Where Were You, Where Are You?”

  1. Thank you for this…perfect and beautifully written.

  2. You said it. I agree with all that you said.

    For me, flying was something I wanted to do immediately after the attack. Growing up in a military family, I felt the need to do something and not to cower in fear of what might come from this terrible act on 9/11.

    The helplessness that many of us felt was overwhelming.

  3. blackwatertown Says:

    As Pgoodness said – well written.
    Where was I? In a radio studio trying to let people know what was happening as it happened.
    Where am I? Like many, ruing the still climbing death toll pushed up by that day – and not seeing an end to it.

  4. We were getting ready to board our aircraft at Charlotte gate B11, heading to Philly. We were in an Airbus 319. We were supposed to have a 321 because the flight was to continue to San Fran. I asked the gate agent to call dispatch to be sure they knew we had a 319. When she came back she said the Trade Center buildings had been hit by aircraft.
    I called CLT clearance on the radio to see if any delays were expected going north. They replied that all flights were grounded until further notice.
    We were asked to move our aircraft off the gate to allow for the aircraft that were being diverted to CLT from northern airspace. I called my wife on the cell to let her know what was going on.
    When I got to the ops center I saw one of the Trade Center buildings on fire. I couldn’t see the other building, but I thought it was being hidden by the building in view. Then that building fell, but there was no other building behind it. It had already gone down, but I wasn’t yet aware of it. The ops room was so silent.
    It took three days to find a rental car to get my crew and myself back to DC National Airport.
    It was very strange to drive from CLT to DCA and not see a single airplane in the air.
    It was a very quiet drive.

  5. Hey Chris. I have been reading your blog for awhile now. I’m a high school senior and I get bored in study hall, so I come on here and just read and read and read. I want to be an airline pilot, and I have wanted to be an airline pilot for as long as I can remember. Anyway, as a patriotic American citizen, a member of the US military, and a future pilot, I must say that this is my favorite blog that I have read from you so far, and it is also one of the most beautiful articles on 9/11 that I have read. I can say it is one of the very few to bring a tear to my eye. Thank you for posting this blog as well as the rest of them. They are really good reads, and they give me a decent idea what to look forward to when I get my wings. Thanks again for posting. May you have clear skies and following winds. May God bless you, may God Bless America, and may God bless those that defend her. We will never forget.

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