There are seminal moments in life shared by generations that may not be
as obvious at first and indeed we may make light of some events, but one
thing they all have in common is they all leave a deep impression on
those who remember.
Not necessarily in chronological order, significance or importance; the
Great War leaves scars to this day despite the loss of all our WW1
Veterans in recent years, The Second world War, The Cuban Missile
Crisis, Korea, Vietnam, The first Lunar landing, The Beatles, our first
clumsy sexual encounter, the assassination of President Kennedy, the
Falklands War and the bombing of a Remembrance Parade in Enniskillen by
the Provisional Irish Republican Army…
Now I can’t lay claim to being around during some of the events above
being a mere 40 something, and as much as I like to think my first
sexual encounter was something akin to when Adam met Eve, I’d be as
misleading as an MP in the Houses of Parliament when questioned about
their expenses. However I do remember the shock and outrage of the
Enniskillen bombing, the effect it had on me and the eventual direction
my life would take.
The call to arms for some young men and women happens in much the same
way I guess; a sense of moral outrage and wanting to protect all that
your parents have taught you to hold dear, which I term the ‘for King
and Country’ calling, as first exhibited by the men and children of the
Commonwealth countries at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.
There is little I can say that more eloquent people than I haven’t said
on the “cause and effect” of 9/11 indeed, some of you will have lost
Sons, Brothers, Fathers, Husbands, Daughters, Sisters, Mothers and Wives
amongst other family members either in the atrocious attacks directly
or since, after answering the call to arms.
There are few words that I
can offer which adequately express my sympathy at your loss and
sacrifice and, I can say with confidence I don't think there is one
community in the UK that hasn't been touched by the loss of a loved one
in the War On Terror.
For me, 9/11 is one of those shock and awe moments that will live with
me until my last breath as I know it will for many of you.
My personal experience of 9/11 I shall briefly share with you, there's
no heroics, because I'm no hero just an old engineer.
To set the scene...
I had worked in Northern Ireland for a joint service unit on and off for
a few years and decided, or rather it had been decided for me that the
unit should be scaled down and the role handed to another recently
formed unit which had a more 'global' sphere of operations, that I
should return to the mainland for retraining.
For the most part I was happy as I'd become tired of the job, the
politics and with one eye on the future I needed a trade for civvy
street. Occasionally I would have to dip my toes back into the past for
one reason or another, mainly to answer questions but some times when
everyone else was too busy, I was asked back to make the tea's and
9/11 was one of those times.
"You should see this film."
I'd just returned to an aircraft Squadron after further training,
getting divorced and all the usual crap that both those situations bring
to the table when I met a lass who would ultimately become ex wife
number two, but that's another story...
Anyway, I had been on a 12 hour
night shift for three nights and was looking forward to heading down to
Devon with the 'dragon' for a weeks leave after the last night shift in
the rotation of four on four off.
I awoke mid day and went to the loo, on returning to my room the
'dragon' uttered those fateful words that still hang in my memory when
everything else has all but gone.
"You should see this film."
I watched a second aircraft disappear into a building in a mass of flame
and black smoke, my heart stopping as the realisation struck me that
this was real, this was actually happening and right now.
My head swam with questions as I watched helplessly people dying, on
screen, right before my eyes; and not for the first time nor indeed the
last, did bile rise from my stomach as the stench reached my nostrils.
Nothing but death comes from explosions, so that blows the "big bang"
theory to shreds too, in my opinion.
I quickly showered and headed to work early, as did many others with a
'few' years under their belts because, we knew, that once the initial
shock subsided, it would be busy. Very f*cking busy.
Anyone with half a brain cell and an ounce of common sense knew that,
whilst the attack had gone down on U.S. soil, it was going to have a
snowball effect, consuming all in the roll down hill.
The next day, maybe the day after, I'm unsure due to the head injury,
passage of time or time zones, I found myself stranded in Halifax, Nova
Scotia. Unable to proceed to Washington, along with thousands of
passengers either travelling from Europe to the U.S. or just trying to
transit U.S. airspace.
The unsung hero's that are our Canadian cousins, who never fail to produce
when disaster rears it's ugly head, came out thick and fast as the doors
to the shopping mall, hotels, community centres and even private homes,
were willingly opened to all.
The rows of aircraft that swamped Halifax airfield was in stark contrast
to Washington; it was all but deserted except for the airfield staff
whose pain, fear and shock were etched deep in their faces.
9/11 was certainly my 'Nixon' or 'Lunar landing' moment.