The day started out like any other for me. I got up, had my morning coffee, started my computer, and went about seeing what had happened in the world over night. Just one small problem: I couldn't connect with any of my favorite sites which, eleven years ago, included the MSNBC web site. I tried other sites; no luck. I tried any site; still no luck. I kept reloading the MSNBC site and finally got a message that said something to the effect that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I ran downstairs, turned on the TV, and went to the local NBC channel. Tom Brokaw was in the midst of informing his audience that both towers of the World Trade Center had been struck by large aircraft; the clip of the second aircraft to strike was being run over and over.
Shock. What the hell was going on? As the morning progressed more news came in. The Pentagon had been struck by a large aircraft; United flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania. All aircraft in US airspace were being directed to land; those that had not yet entered US airspace were being diverted to other countries. I heard the term "Air Defense Emergency" being announced. That probably didn't mean much to civilians, but having been in command and control in the Air Force, it meant one thing me: WAR. It was the only time I have ever heard that declared in real life. Again, what the hell was going on? More announcements: President Bush was on Air Force One and had landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Another announcement: Air Force One had departed Barksdale; destination unknown. By that time my wife was up and was watching with the same disbelief that I felt. I finally had enough of the constant reiteration of known events; they were filling time until the next new thing was announced. I went outside into our back yard.
I hadn't been there long when I heard a large aircraft approaching Offutt Air Force Base. I looked out to the north, toward the approach path to Offutt. It was Air Force One on final approach; there was an F-16 flying escort. At some point I heard the F-16 execute a missed approach and then come around and land. So the President was at Offutt. I was now ahead of the TV news people; I came inside to tell my wife. Not long after that the talking head (Brokaw, I think) announced that President Bush had landed at Offutt Air Force Base.
After a little thought,it became clear why the President had landed at Offutt: as an alternate military command center, Offutt had all the secure communications needed for a presidential briefing. President Bush must be in the StratCom underground command post getting a briefing on events that had occurred and what plans there were to do something about it.
Editor's Note: Critics of the Bush Administration would later claim that "Bush was cowering in a bunker" when the country needed him, but that was just another cheap shot by a political party whose reputation for things like that dates back to before the Civil War.
I later confirmed that the President did indeed go to the StratCom command post for a briefing from someone, probably all the key cabinet members, and probably at the National Military Command Center near the Pentagon.
When CINCSTRATCOM, Admiral Richard Mies, received word that Air Force One was on its way to Offutt he drove out to the flight line to personally escort President Bush and his retinue to the underground command post. Admiral Mies realized that trying to take a party that large to the command post through the labyrinth that is the usual route would be both cumbersome and time consuming so he ordered that the fire escape to the command post be opened so that the entire party could be taken directly to the command post from the lawn of the headquarters building.
Someone by the name of Jim Schiefelbein snapped a picture of Air Force One sitting in the NEACP parking area at Offutt, on "hot alert," engines running, hooked up to a ground communications network. I have a copy of that image, along with a short description of the circumstances.
The rest of the day was spent filling more time with announcements as more information came in about United 93, that this was a hijacking by Muslims, who some of the hijacker's were, and a myriad of details I have long since forgotten. It was announced that all flights inside the US had safely landed. Outside that was pretty obvious. Even military flights, except for air defense sorties, were grounded. I recall some talking head in/around the New York City area talking in an outdoor setting when the sound of a jet fighter penetrated his commentary. The young man actually ducked and wondered aloud whether "it was one of ours." Did he actually think that a bunch of hijackers who had committed suicide and murder also had their own air force? My daughter heard the sound of jet fighters flying around the Ann Arbor/Detroit area. She told me that she had friends who said they felt
uncomfortable with the fighter jets flying around. Being an Air Force brat, her recollection is
that of familiarity and comfort since it is not a sight often seen around the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, where she lives.
One of her friends told her that she was worried about the military
aircraft. My daughter told her that they were doing their job keeping us safe and it
wasn't something to worry about. Such is the ignorance of the civilian populace.
We watched along with everyone else as the twin towers collapsed in a huge cloud of dust and debris. After that it seemed like most of the imagery was of the smoking holes where the World Trade Center had stood that morning.
Toward evening we decided to go out and eat; neither one of us felt like cooking. As we drove to a nearby Thai restaurant we were amazed to see cars lined up at all the gas stations waiting to fill up their tanks. What were those people thinking of? Did they think that there would be no gasoline to be had the next day? Did they think were being invaded by screaming Muslim hoards? How far did they think a tank of gas was actually going to get them? Where were they going to go anyway? It was an amazing sight.
For the next three days, if I recall correctly, all flights in US airspace were grounded, except for air defense flights. There were armed fighters flying over New York City and Washington DC, at least. It was unusually quiet in our neighborhood. The training sorties that Offutt Air Force Base flew most days were grounded too. The airlines were busy inspecting their aircraft, trying to assess the potential for other aborted takeovers and making sure their aircraft were safe to fly. I heard that there was at least some evidence that other flights had been targeted.
Not long after 9-11 I received a rather odd e-mail message from someone who appeared to be in Oregon; he had a name that suggested someone from the Middle East. He had seen an on-line article I had written several years before. He wanted to know if I could teach him how to fly. I forwarded that message to the Omaha office of the FBI. The FBI never acknowledged receipt of that message, but some time later I heard on the evening news that a Muslim militant group had been broken up in Oregon. In retrospect I have little doubt that if a Democrat knew of the fact that I had assumed the worst with that e-mail I would be branded a "racist" or even a "fascist." Such is the state of the Party of the Democrats now. It wasn't that way sixty years ago.