It is one of those moments in time that everybody will remember what they were doing when they heard, like the Challenger explosion, Ronald Reagan getting shot, the final Vietnam cease fire going into effect, Neal Armstrong’s “One small step for Man”, and for those even older than me…when JFK was hit by multiple assassins in Dealey Plaza.
I was sitting at my desk in the Quality Assurance Division of Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Ft Worth, TX. I was inputting data into my tracker for some safety requirements, since my main job at the time was Safety Manager for the Department. Our Division Chief, Gunnery Sergeant Batastini suddenly called out, “There’s reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center!” Somebody commented that there must be some heavy low clouds in NY. I said that during WW2, a B-25 Mitchell bomber had run into the Empire State Building, while someone else said that a few other small planes had hit the skyscrapers of NYC before. We didn’t think much of it.
I finished inputting my data and decided, for some reason, to check the weather at JFK. Let’s see how much that poor pilot had to deal with. As I was trying to bring up weatherdotcom, Gunny said, “There’s video of the crash……wait, THAT’S A SECOND CRASH, THE OTHER TOWER’S ALREADY BURNING!” There was a simultaneous “OH, SH!T!” from the rest of us, as we scrambled to get behind his desk and see what was up. I don’t remember who said it, but there was a “Godd@## Muslim terrorists!” which we all immediately agreed was probably correct.
Someone grabbed the television that was in our publications library, got an extension cord, and put the TV out on the loading dock (the only place in the building with reception). As word filtered to the work centers, every one sent a couple of people to the dock to report in relays back to them as to what was happening. That’s where we found out about Flight 11 and the Pentagon and Flight 93 near Shanksville, PA. Nobody was getting any real work done, unless it was a high-priority item.
Eventually, I grabbed some paperwork that needed to go to the base safety office. After making that delivery, while I was driving back to AIMD, the first tower fell. I was listening to WBAP 820 AM and their live feeds from ABC News. I stopped my car and cried like a baby for a few minutes. I got back to the loading dock just before the 2nd tower fell. About an hour later, the Base Commander closed the base to all but those living there, security personnel, air traffic control, and the fighter squadrons.
That evening, all the houses in our neighborhood that had flags had them half-staffed, and just about every house had a candle (or 2, 3, 4, 5) in the window or on the porch. Tears flowed freely (as mine are now, just remembering), and we all hugged each other. White, black, brown…all with a burning hatred now for all things Muslim.