My reflection of an unforgettable day

  • Published
  • By Maj. Fernando E. Waldron
  • 62nd Comptroller Squadron commander
We remember many things that have occurred in our history: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Kennedy's assassination and when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. But Sept. 11, 2001, was the day that time stopped.

For me it was the day when I knew I had made the right decision to join the military and protect America and its people from harm. That day will always be a day in which it didn't matter who you were, where you were from or what color you happened to be. On that day, we were all Americans, ready to protect our country and save those who were in need of saving.

On that day, I was stationed in Korea, but I was performing temporary duty in Washington, D.C. My wife was 7 months pregnant with our first child and I was on top of the world. I'll never forget that day for as long as I live.

I was enrolled in a finance class, not very far from the U.S. Capitol. The class started at 7:30 a.m. and the teacher let us break after an hour.

As a few of us were walking to the break room to get some coffee, we heard a woman scream. I ran to her, not knowing what was happening. As I approached her, it seemed as if time had slowed down. I looked at the woman's face and saw horror in her eyes as she pointed to a small TV hanging in the corner of the room. I looked up and saw what I thought was a scene from a movie. One of the buildings of the twin towers was on fire.

Not yet knowing that a plane had collided with the tower, I watched, hoping the firefighters could get to the people inside and rescue them.

Then my heart started pounding uncontrollably as a second plane came into view and hit the other building. I was in shock. Then the chaos began.

Alarms started to ring out and a voice on the intercom told us to safely evacuate the building. As I left the building, there were thousands of people walking in the streets. Many people were trying to make calls on their cell phones, but were unable to, due to the overpowered cell tower.

After being on the street in the open for almost an hour, I heard the sound of jets flying above us. At that moment I made the decision to leave downtown and make my way back to Bolling Air Force Base. Who would have thought the force protection computer-based training I had taken annually would have kicked in and taken over?

I jumped on the metro to get to the Anacostia Station where I had earlier parked my car. As the train was nearing the Pentagon stop, a voice came over the speaker stating that the Pentagon stop was closed. This came as no surprise to me, even though I did not yet know that the Pentagon had also been hit.

I finally made it to my car on the top level of the parking lot, facing Ronald Reagan National Airport. Looking out, I saw an eerie resemblance to a war zone from a movie. Gunships circling the airspace around the Potomac and the smoke billowing from the Pentagon are images I will never be able to erase from my memory.

I finally made it to Bolling AFB and I made sure that the first thing I did was to call my wife and family. It took me 40 minutes before I was able to reach my wife. I told her I was safe and to try not to worry. I told her I would call back as soon as I was able to reach my parents on the phone.

I called my parents and let them know I was okay. But my dad, a retired master sergeant, told me to get prepared, we are going to war.

At the time, that meant nothing to me. But I later found out that the attacks were deliberate.

Five years later, I deployed to the Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

While 9/11 was undeniably a day of terror and atrocity, it was also a day that signaled a time of great unification amongst Americans. We were knocked down by the initial shock and hopelessness. However, America got back up, gaining power as its citizens mourned and coped together. Americans showed their ability to remember their lost loved ones while using the victims' memories to drive themselves to live more fulfilling lives.

That day revealed the impenetrable strength of the United States and its people. It also emphasized the significance of our country's foundational beliefs and the necessity to protect them. Although the memory of 9/11 was a day of sorrow and pain, it also carries meaning as a turning point in our country's history as we have become a stronger, more unified nation.

We often get caught up with life's nuances and become frustrated over trivial things. We tend to lose sight of the big picture, blinded by an obsession over minor details. The victims of 9/11 will never be forgotten and will always be in our hearts.

God bless our heroes and God bless America.