• Donna Lake for NC

19 years ago

As we remember 9/11 terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and near Shanksville, PA on Sept 11, 20011, we must never forget those that perished and those who, 19 years later, are still suffering.

In 2001 I was working in the office of the USAF Surgeon General, and as I write this and reflect on that day, I can still smell the jet fuel fumes that reached all the way to us, four miles across the Potomac. My colleagues and I saw the flames and smoke from American Airlines flight 77, which hit the Pentagon that morning and killed 64 on the aircraft and 125 in the Pentagon.

We were asked to immediately evacuate our building, for fear of another attack. As we were running out of the building to take cover, escorted by armed security forces and with F-16s screaming over-head, my boss, the USAF Surgeon General, turned to me and said the US will never be the same again, this is our Pearl Harbor.

He was right, because that day led to our nation’s military engagement in two wars over the 19 years that would follow. For me, that service included preparation and deployment of thousands of USAF Airmen in harm’s way under my command.

I included the certificate below not to make today and our solemn remembrance about myself, but to serve as a reminder of the many families whose loved ones, heroes to our nation, died in their service to our country. It was an honor then and remains a great honor of my life to this day to have supported them in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

The picture on the certificate itself is significant because it displays the unity and support during a national crisis that came naturally to so many Americans. This is a time to be thankful to the many sacrifices by military, first responders, police, firemen, health workers.

For more than six months we have been struck by an ongoing crisis which has killed hundreds of thousands and which will similarly change the course of our nation’s history. Today must mean more than just a remembrance ceremony - it harkens back to a time when we were in crisis and worked together to care for our fellow Americans in their extreme grief and time in need. We must search ourselves for that commonality and sense of patriotism again.

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