By Joe White
9/11 Anniversary – 2020 AYWW’sReflection & Request.
On 9/11/2001, 19 young men, from foreign countries, killed approximately 2, 977 people in the United States, people of all ages from many different countries. These 19 young men were on a mission, which would result in their own deaths. Throughout that horrific September day in 2001, thousands more people would also risk their lives attempting to contain the tragedy. The resolve, the courage, it takes for an individual to intentionally put her or his life on the line for a cause, to do one’s duty, is one of humanity’s most powerful capabilities. This power of the will to do one’s duty, to willfully act in accord with some social principle or rule or law appears unique to humans and perhaps not even all humans. Very young children appear to lack this capacity and perhaps none of us knows our true strength until we are tested. Fear is powerful. Death is final. Cowardice exists. Nonetheless, as history has also abundantly taught us, this power of the will can be either beneficial or destructive even evil. 9/11 is a reminder that this power of the will can tip history.
I have not read any detailed accounts of the intentions of the various 9/11 hijackers but I would suspect their choices were not easy, no matter how much they may be demonized. However, the story of Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney, 26, an F-16 rookie pilot, is new to me on this anniversary of 9/11. On 9/11/2001, the young Lt. Penney was stationed with the 121st Fighter Squadron in the Washington D.C. Air National Guard. That day started quietly with a squadron meeting. In the midst of their meeting, they were informed that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At the news they all wondered how, on such a clear day, a pilot could mess up so badly. When they were informed that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, it became apparent that these were not accidental crashes. After the Pentagon was hit, these F-16 pilots were ordered to scramble.
As she and her fellow pilots dashed to their jets, they realized that having just returned from training exercises in Nevada, none of their jets were armed with missiles or high-explosive bullets and now there was no time to arm them. There was also information coming in that another hijacked plane was heading toward Washington D.C. Her commander, Col. Marc “Sass” Sasseville looked at her and said, “Lucky, you’re with me.” Once aloft, searching for the suspected hijacked plane, United Airlines flight 93, their duty was clear, take down that plane. Col. Sasseville radioed to Lt. Penney, “I’ll take the cockpit.” “Lucky” Penney said she knew she would take the tail, “take the tail off of an airplane and it can’t fly. I was thinking this was the one thing in my life that I had to get right. I had already given myself up, knowing what my duty was.” At that moment, a 26-year old young lady was on a mission whose success would require her ultimate sacrifice. With resolve, she was going to do her duty.
Patrolling for the missing plane, they couldn’t find the jetliner. They flew back to D.C. to make sure they had not somehow missed the jetliner. Once in the D.C. area they helped set up a protective cover over the city. After four hours of patrolling, they finally landed and were able to have their jets armed. Hijacked Flight 93 was apparently intended to crash into either the Capitol Building or the White House but the passengers on that flight heroically took the plane down in a field in Pennsylvania before it could reach Washington. So many stories of individuals doing their duty, even going above and beyond the call of duty.
2020 AYWW requests that on this day of remembering the great loss and sacrifices of 9/11/01, we reflect upon how we, humanity, can use this powerful capacity to do our duty, to embrace and to act upon ideals greater than our individual selves to find mutual respect in building a civilization in which we can all flourish in our families and culturally diverse communities, instead of fighting and killing each other in our 21st century no-win wars. Our very existence as a species is now in jeopardy due to increasing ecological vulnerability and our development of now anachronistic weapons of mass destruction. Through our self-destruction that is contemporary war, we now hasten our own species extinction. Our duty, individually and collectively, should be to urgently end war, for at least one year, and to mutually support each other in this delicately perilous adventure we call life.