I’ve got to admit that jotting down a few words next to some photos seems like a terribly ineffective way for me to remember 9/11. The stories I have chosen are meant to be reminders of what truly was taking place surrounding this terrorist attack. I vividly remember that day—moment-by-moment--and I remember the thoughts that raced through my mind as the events played out before an international audience. I recall the anger of those on the streets of New York City—bleeding heart liberals now calling for the obliteration of whoever had attacked their city. I remember the anger I felt as I watched the people of Gaza celebrate the fall of the World Trade Center towers, and I remember thinking that our country would never be the same again.
This morning as we remember that fateful day from 15 years ago, the emotions of that day are still palpable, and I find myself appalled by those who would opt to lessen the reality of that day with a diluted truth and weakened backbone. I feel my pressure rise as I think of those who later today will use a national stage to protest the very nation that we are blessed with. I’ll be angered and heartbroken all over again as I see the original Today Show broadcast replayed on MSNBC (the only day I’ll watch that network because of the replay). I could easily stay pissed off all day…and then I think of the “others.”
We know the big players of the day—a President, Vice President, Cabinet Members, and a Mayor. We have the privilege of reading and watching the stories of the better-known heroes who emerged that day. Some of them survived…hundreds of them didn’t. I love being reminded of those folks. As I think of this day, though, I also like to remember the others—men and women who did everything from the mundane to the extraordinary to make a difference in this life.
Today, I think about Leeky Behrman. Leeky was working in the Morgan Stanley offices on the 61st floor of Tower 2 when the first plane hit Tower 1. When the Port Authority came over the loudspeakers and said, “Tower 2 is secure…please remain at your desks,” Leeky opted to disregard the command. She and others began the long climb down the stairs—working their way around those who became tired and sat down on the steps--and found their way out before the tower succumbed to the stress of the attack. By her own admission, Behrman still struggles with the trauma she experienced as a result of those attacks. Leeky represents thousands who are still startled when they hear the roar of a low-flying jet.
Today, I think about Rick Rescorla. Rescorla, a native of the U.K. and former Platoon Leader in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, served as Director of Security for Morgan Stanley. Occupying 22 floors in Tower 2 and part of Tower 5, Morgan Stanley and Rescorla often found themselves at odds as he insisted that they participate in regular evacuation drills. When Rescorla predicted the basement garage bombing of the Trade Center years before it took place in 1993, he was dismissed as being overly-cautious. Years later, Rescorla expressed concern that the Towers would be attacked by a large cargo plane carrying explosives or chemical weapons. Again, Rescorla was dismissed. However, he never stopped preparing and never stopped making others prepare. On 9/11, Rescorla scoffed at the Port Authority’s warning to stay in place. Armed with a bullhorn, a 2-way radio, and a cell phone, Rescorla ordered the evacuation of all the Morgan Stanley employees in Tower 2 and Tower 5. After successfully evacuating over 2600 employees out of the building, Rescorla was seen racing back up the stairs into Tower 2 to assist in the evacuation of employees from other companies. Moments later, the tower fell—taking the life of the man who had prepared his entire life for this moment.
Today, I think about Captain Mark Tillman. As an elite pilot, Captain Tillman was tasked with the most important pilot job in the world—flying the President around in Air Force One. On 9/11, Captain Tillman’s normally difficult job became much more dangerous. In what was essentially an emergency evacuation of the President while the country was under attack, Tillman notified the stunned passengers on Air Force One to brace themselves while he aggressively launched the massive plane out of the Florida airport. Throughout the day, Tillman would pilot the President in and out of secure locations before ultimately returning to the White House. Two years later, Tillman was credited with the highly successful and secret flight into Iraq so that the President could surprise the troops on Thanksgiving. Maintaining secrecy during the planning, even the normally porous media was shocked when President Bush stepped out from behind a curtain to the cheers of the troops. The flight would have been impossible without the skill and leadership of Captain Tillman. As his last action in the military, Tillman flew President Bush from Washington, DC to his Texas home following the inauguration ceremony in 2009.
Today, I think about comedian and actor Robin Williams. Following the attacks on 9/11, there was an overwhelming urgency on the part of Americans to do something…anything…to make a difference. We all wanted to help while we waited for rescues that would never take place. Initially, there was a call for blood donors to help prepare for what was assumed to be a substantial number of people being rescued and needing blood. Williams didn’t need to be asked twice. Wearing a T-shirt and camo pants, Williams was photographed soon after the attacks doing what he could—sharing his blood. In the years following 9/11, Robin Williams was a favorite on the USO Tour as he entertained the troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sadly, we lost Robin in 2014; However, search his American Flag Performance from 1982 if you want to see him at his best.
Today, I think about Major Heather Penney and Major General Marc Sasseville. As Air Force F-16 pilots, then Lt. Penney and Lt. Col. Sasseville were called upon to intercept United Flight 93 on 9/11. The forth of four hijacked planes, Flight 93 had veered from its original flight path and was believed to be heading back towards the nation’s capital in what would likely be an attack on the White House or the Capital. Refusing to answer flight controllers’ orders, Flight 93 appeared ready to fulfill its role in the carnage that had unfolded that morning. Lt. Col. Sasseville’s and Lt. Penney’s orders to intercept and destroy Flight 93 before the hijackers could carry out their mission carried an even greater burden. Because there was no time to arm the fighter planes with weapons, the orders to take down Flight 93 meant that they must use their F-16s to ram both the cockpit and the tail of the commercial jet—all but ensuring the deaths of these two fighter pilots. In the back of her mind, Lt. Penney also knew that her father, a United Airlines pilot, might also be at the controls of the plane that she was being ordered to down. Mercifully, Penney’s father was not flying that day and the brave passengers of Flight 93 overtook the hijackers and crashed the plane in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Later that day, Sasseville and Penney would provide air cover for DC and would escort Air Force One to its final destination.
Today, I think about our nation. With every news report, we seem more broken and embattled than ever. With divisive politics ever looming, I often wonder if we would unite again were we faced with the same tragedy that we faced just 15 short years ago. I wonder if this great nation that God has blessed us with, that many have fought and died for, and that some seem destined to destroy, will ever humble herself again and allow God to heal us from our brokenness. While so many will scoff at the thought, God’s Word is plain and direct, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
Never Forget. May God bless America.
Return to Series