News: Remembering 9/11 at GTMO
Story by Sgt. Ryan Hallock
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - At 8:46 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001, Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, dramatically changing our lives, nation, and world. The terrorist attacks which followed on the South Tower, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93 proved to the world that the United States of America was under attack.
The buildings that dominated Manhattan’s skyline collapsed that day, and in the destruction, thousands of American lives were lost. For many it was a complete shock and a time of terror and fear. For many others it was a call to action. It was a call to defend the freedoms that were compromised when terrorists attacked the nation. That day, many made the decision to raise their hand, don the uniform, and swear an oath to protect this nation.
Service members, their families, and the Guantanamo Bay community gathered together on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Main Chapel for a service of remembrance, reflection, and dedication.
“I remember living in Brooklyn, N.Y., climbing to the rooftop of my apartment building and looking across the water to the end of Manhattan, where two buildings – the tallest buildings in the world – were reaching for the sky,” said Rear Adm. John Smith, Joint Task Force Guantanamo commander, during his remembrance speech.
The national anthem resonated throughout the chapel as the audience stood at attention to honor the flag this Patriot Day. It’s the flag that symbolizes what our nation has fought for, the outstanding obstacles it has overcome, and the way we prevail at the 11th hour. Raising the flag over Iwo Jima, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the flag on the moon, and firefighters hoisting the flag above the rubble at ground zero – these moments in our history united the nation.
One thing that Americans and citizens of this world have in common is having a story of where they were early that Tuesday morning in September. Troopers united at the GTMO remembrance and shared their stories of where they were that fateful day.
“I was in my freshmen anthropology class,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Mandi Tedeschi, water and fuels maintenance with the Base Emergency Engineer Force.
Tedeschi joined the military in 2005, focused on furthering her education. She remembers on 9/11 being in the classroom at the University of Wisconsin. Her professor entered the classroom and said something she’ll never forget.
“All of a sudden the teacher [for anthropology, which studies bones] out of nowhere said, ‘So today they are going to need a lot of anthropologists to identify teeth.’”
Tedeschi’s class ended and she walked into the corridor where TVs were showing the news. She left for the day and went to her parents’ home where she lived and watched the news with her family.
“Nobody really wanted to say anything; we just stared at the TV for hours, she said.”
Each Patriot Day, Tedeschi remembers all those close to her who were affected.
“It’s tough, mainly because now I’m married to a fireman, and I see how it affects him,” she said.
‘I thought it was a movie’
“I remember I was in Manhattan with my nephew, because I was visiting my sister in New Jersey,” said Army Sgt. Jose Maldonado, property book officer with the Puerto Rico National Guard. “I took a taxi to see the World Trade Center. I never went up because they were so big; I was afraid to go.”
Maldonado was in New York City four days before 9/11. He traveled back to Puerto Rico after visiting with his family. He woke up on the morning of 9/11 and turned on the TV.
“They were showing the first tower getting hit,” he said. “I thought it was a movie. Every channel was showing the same picture, and after five channels, something in my head clicked like, ‘dude that’s not a movie, something is going on.’”
Just a few minutes later Maldonado watched the second plane crash into the tower on live TV.
“This means World War III,” he said after seeing the live images.
Brand new airman
“I was a brand new airman at my very first base,” said Tech. Sgt. Korrine Kargl, aerospace medical services with the Joint Medical Group. “I’d been there for 30 days.”
She joined the military in 2001 to see the world and has been to Korea, Germany, Croatia, Pakistan, all over Europe, and now GTMO.
Sept. 11, 2001, only 30 days before she swore the oath to defend the United States of America, Kargl was giving two young cadets their physicals. They wanted to fly F-16s one day, and she was testing their vision. She brought one of the cadets to the waiting room and remembers the television was on.
“I saw smoke coming from a really tall building,” she said. “I didn’t know where, and I didn’t know why.”
Everyone gathered in the waiting room and watched.
One of the cadets looked to her and said, “I have family who work there.”
She sat down next to him and held his hand; united together during the morning Americans will never forget.
Smith spoke of America’s unity during his speech and remembered when President George W. Bush delivered a strong message to the people in America and across the world.
“I can hear you,” said Bush, standing at Ground Zero, speaking through a megaphone and his arm around a firefighter. “The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
Some of those responsible have heard directly from the military, and the Troopers of GTMO are charged with the mission of detaining the five who have been charged with plotting, organizing, training, and funding the 9/11 attacks.
“If you don’t think your work is valuable, it is,” said Capt. John Nettleton, U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay commander, during his remembrance speech. “It means an awful lot to an awful lot of families.”
The last 11 years have brought many changes for the United States and the world. The war in Iraq was fought and ended. Osama Bin Laden was killed. The new World Trade Center complex is under construction and its completion is scheduled for 2013.
Now the nation is at a divide with the upcoming election, but on this day politics hold no weight. This day of remembrance is more powerful than our differences, and it unites people as they gather together to honor the fallen.
“Yes my skyline has changed… but not my faith in humanity nor my faith as an American,” said Smith in his closing remarks. “When I return to New York and look again at the skyline, I’ll be remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in New York, in Arlington, and Somerset County, Pa.”