We all know where we were, how we felt, what we were doing and who we were with.
We always do when the uncaring spike of history is driven through the human psyche.
I was asleep when the attacks started. My brother (my room-mate) was watching TV when the news of the first aircraft impact on the World Trade Center broke in. I was barely awake, trying to absorb how this could have happened, and then in a sudden sickening moment of clarity… I knew. I knew it was intentional, that this had not happened, it had been done. My mind reeled, rolling back to my years in the Canadian Forces and what I knew of USAF Air Defence posture.
Could interceptors be launched in time? With what orders? Would anyone actually accept the responsibility of possibly killing hundreds of civilians… to save others? And make that decision in time?
I knew that when, not if, the fighters launched the orders would matter less than the men flying them. Those pilots would act, sacrificing themselves to protect others if there were no other way.
Then the TV showed me a scene that would lead me down a different path than I had envisioned before. The second airliner, clawing through a high speed turn in the thick air of the low altitude. Even today my body will tense at the exact moment I realized that even a Sparrow or AMRAAM missile was pointless. The plane, the horror, would not be denied.
I felt ill, physically ill. My career was in fighters and in Air Defence. Fair or not, what was happening was my fault… I knew it. We hadn’t prepared, scramble times were too long… something. I had no idea what should have been better, not surprising as the answer was nothing. The threat was not envisioned, events moving too fast.
The Pentagon, United 93, I watched it all. The Towers fell as my heart sank. I yearned for the phone call. That phone call, dreaded during “exercise season”, with the simple message, “RECALL! RECALL! RECALL! All base personnel report to your place of duty immediately.” Of course the phone call didn’t come, I had been retired for 8 years.
The rest of my day is surreal. I went to work, but not like before. My past in the military had been meaningless before that day, at least to most Canadian civilians. That day I was besieged. Everyone wanted to know, could Canada defend itself? Atrocity changed how Canada viewed it’s military, and Her Veterans. It changed how I viewed myself.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. When the World changes, we do. 9-11 changed the World.
I don’t remember “me” from before that moment. At least, I don’t remember the “me” that existed before my Service retirement, until that moment. It’s odd, but the only way I can explain it is, “The new World had no room for the old ‘me’. ‘I’ had to take my place.”
2997 victims. The innocence of the World. Casualties of the evil Man can do when compassion fails.