9/11 – A Personal Look Back

“10:30 a.m. – The 62nd Airlift Squadron (my unit) calls to notify me that my leave is now cancelled and I’m being recalled.”  – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


I repost my 9/11 story every year because it’s important to remember not only the tragic details of this horrific day but to honor those who died, or were forever changed, after September 11, 2001.  So here it goes…


September 11, 2001

On leave this Tuesday, I was enjoying my day off from work at Little Rock Air Force Base, just returning home after an early morning workout.

0749 (all Arkansas times) I turned on the television in my master bedroom and was walking to go start the shower when I heard a CNN reporter mention that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. I immediately turned around in the bathroom and looked back at the TV in the other room; images showed the same weather in Lower Manhattan as we had in Cabot, Arkansas—brilliant blue skies.

I watched for a couple of minutes–assumed it was a small airplane with a pilot who had experienced a medical condition flying and couldn’t control his plane’s direction. I began to clean up, leaving the television set on.

0803 I’m getting dressed and flipping channels to get more information on the accident in NYC. As I’m watching ABC News, I see with my own eyes, United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the South Tower, taking out floors 77-85 in an instant! Holy ****!

911 jet

I’m now glued to the television set watching people scramble for survival from downtown Manhattan. A bad feeling begins to set in for me. This is trouble. Big trouble.

News reporters on ABC, NBC and CBS speculate whether they are witnessing a terrorist attack or some rare accident—and a CNN anchor assumes the second explosion was caused by fuselage of first plane exploding. WABC suggests the two crashes might have been caused by navigational system failure.

0813 F-15 fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base leave military airspace near Long Island, bound for Manhattan.

0815 NBC News’ Today program reports United Airlines and American Airlines employees reported aircraft had been hijacked prior to hitting the WTC towers.

0817 CBS News correspondent in Washington DC mentions that in the intelligence community, Osama bin Laden is probable cause.

0825 Otis-based F-15s establish an air patrol over Manhattan.

0826 The FAA orders a national ground stop. No takeoffs of civilian aircraft regardless of destination. All military bases in the United States ordered to THREATCON DELTA.

0839 FOX News Channel reports “We—we are hearing—right now that another explosion that—has taken place. At the Pentagon.”

0845 All U.S. airspace is shutdown. No civilian aircraft are allowed to take off, and all aircraft in flight are ordered to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible. International flights headed for the U.S. are redirected to Canada. South American flights to the U.S. are diverted to Mexico.

0853 CNN confirms a plane crashed into the Pentagon.

0905 Andrea Mitchell, reporting on NBC from outside the Pentagon, reports that Osama bin Laden may have been involved in the attacks. CNN’s headlines read: “SOUTH TOWER AT WTC COLLAPSES.”

0928 The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 1 hour, 42 minutes after the impact of Flight 11.


0941 NBC News confirms that a plane has “gone down” in Somerset County, 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

0949 FOX New Channel is the first of the United States news networks to implement a “news ticker” at the bottom of its screen for supplementary information about the attacks. CNN adds one at 1011 hours, and MSNBC adds one at approximately 1300. All 3 cable networks have used a “news ticker” continuously in the years since.

0953 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld orders the U.S. military placed at DEFCON 3, for the first time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. DEFCON 3 increases force readiness above that of normal. DEFCON 1 is nuclear war is imminent.

1030 The 62nd Airlift Squadron (my unit) calls to notify me that my leave is now cancelled and I’m being recalled. They confirm I’m still in the local area and tell me to attend a mandatory mass briefing at 1500 hours in the squadron’s main auditorium.

130221-F-WE773-483Five U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft line up before taking off during readiness week at Yokota Air Base, Japan, on Feb. 21, 2013. The 374th Airlift Wing uses C-130s to support combatant commanders in the Pacific region. DoD photo by Senior Airman Cody H. Ramirez, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

DoD photo by Senior Airman Cody H. Ramirez, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

Not sure what the outcome of the squadron briefing will be, or how much time I’d have if I came back home to pack up, I decided to take my mobility A-3 bags and flying gear to the unit that afternoon.

1204 President Bush puts the U.S. military on high alert worldwide.

1420 I drive to work in my uniform, planning for the main gate to Little Rock Air Force Base to be packed with people reporting for duty and briefings.

1445 As I suspected, the entrance to the base was much different than at any previous time in my decade on active-duty. Instead of the security forces looking at our base ID stickers on our windshields and waving us onto the installation with a crisp salute, we had 100% ID checks.

Just beyond the front gate sat a Humvee with netting and a .50-caliber gun, manned by 2 security forces. Surrounding their set-up were sandbags.

1500 Everyone in my squadron was in attendance and seated early for this briefing. My squadron commander, Lt Col Damon Booth, came in and started off with what most of us had already realized…we were at war.

He continued and said things were different from anything we’d ever seen before. This wasn’t Desert Storm. Or Bosnia. This was our Pearl Harbor. America was attacked and he explained into more details what our intelligence sources knew at the time.

Lt Col Booth ended with a note of caution; be ready. We were currently on the receiving end of a very tragic day for our Nation. However, we would get the opportunity soon to go on the offensive. ‘Be ready’. We’re going to get these folks who did this.

1945 I returned to my home in Cabot that night, just a short 20 minute drive from the base. I had a lot on my mind. Were my kids OK? What did they know? What would I tell them?

One thing that wasn’t on my mind and needing worry, was the spirit of the American people. The images in NYC of volunteers going into Manhattan to help. Firefighters and police officers risking their lives…seeing their brothers and sisters die that day. Truly heroic efforts by all first responders and New Yorkers. And throughout America…fire departments nationwide started sending their crews and trucks to NYC to help.

As I departed the highway and got closer to my home, I begin to see America fight back. To stand together like I’d never seen her do before. Driving through the first neighborhood towards my house it hit me. All the flags in the front yards. The yellow ribbons and banners people had already put up. Neighbors were out talking to each other, not coiled up in their homes. People came together. We would be OK.  America would not falter.  The United States of America, a nation now acting as one, would survive and respond to the people who did this.

Never forget.


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"Patrick, you are my go-to guy when it comes to the box office".   - Judy O.

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