There’s a lot of memories wrapped up in seeing 11 Sep on anything, it actually reminded me to change the way my computer shows the date, I kept it set for military format, DD/MM/YYYY, instead of the normal (to most of you) way of MM/DD/YYYY. And when I changed it I started thinking about that day, and the events and feelings around it.
In the summer of 2001 I found out I had 2 hernias. Inguinal Hernias to be technical. The unpleasant part of the term inguinal is where a loop of intestine can wind up, the link above has a diagram, if you want to know, go peek, I won’t spoil it for you.
So I had them both fixed in August, it involves a few small holes, it would be Endoscopic Surgery so recovery would be faster, but I would still be out of work until the last week in September. They gave me an orientation for the surgery, which was actually funny because we used similar, but much more expensive and better quality scopes to inspect jet engines, and I’d been using them for 17 years at this point. The surgery went fine, Kevlar mesh and a few surgical staples, and I went home that day. Recovery was a little more interesting that they or especially I would have liked, to put it delicately my boys were several sizes larger than they should have been, it was a few days after before I could pull my sweatpants up over the surgical area.
I was feeling pretty normal on the 10th when I went to bed, I wasn’t moving too fast but I was doing stairs just fine and as long as I didn’t get stupid and try and lift things I would be fine. It did look like I had two belly buttons, one of the scars had built up strangely and every now and then when I stretched I could feel a tug and a pop and the second bellybutton would be a little shallower. Don’t cringe, I had to feel it, what do you have to fuss about?
The morning of the 11th, a Tuesday I was being lazy and sleeping in when my wife got back from taking the girl to school, she was calling my name as she came up the stairs and turned on the TV. The second plane hit while we watched.
At the foot of my bed is a big wooden chest I made when I was about 14, I had my MoBags (mobility bags) in it. Two of them and everything I would need to be out of town for a minimum of 120 days. We checked everything and packed it all together, she gave me a fast and very short haircut, then I shaved off about a month’s growth showered and called in. I asked where they needed me and told them I’d be in for the swing shift, 4 pm till midnight. We ran a few errands and then loaded everything into my car, because I was on a half-hour notice now to appear and leave.
This is when you hurry up and make sure you have everything, power of attorney for the wife, my will was up-to-date, I had cash, my government travel card, I was current on my training, the M16, and all my gear was packed. By career field I was a jet engine mechanic, but because of my rank I was working as an expediter, which meant I had 24 people from 6 different career fields that I dispatched to jobs from a big ‘bread truck,’ and I knew I was going to be busy as hell.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I got to work and all aircraft were generated and ready to do, we were standing by for any orders because my squadron was ‘in the bucket,’ meaning that we were the rapid deployment force for the bomber fleet. I was assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron, we maintained and flew the B-1B Lancer, the history of the squadron went back to 1917 and when you looked at our guidon it had so many campaign streamers it looked like a pom-pom attached to a spear, if you dug a little you could see the actual pennant. One of the key historical accomplishments about the 34th was that most of the aircraft and pilots for the Doolittle Raid on Japan were from the 34th, if you look here you’ll even see some of the pilots wearing the patch on their flight jackets.
April of 1942, four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 16 B-25’s that had been shoe-horned onto the flight deck of the USS Hornet and flew a one-way mission to attack Japan. Of the 80 men that took off, 3 men were killed during the mission, 8 were captured (4 of them executed in custody), 5 were interned in the USSR, and all 16 aircraft were lost. Most of the crew’s made it to China, where the local population spirited them away, there are some estimates that the Japanese Imperial Army killed as many as 250,000 Chinese civilians trying to find them.
The actual damage inflicted by the raid was slight, but the psychological effect to Japanese and American morale was electrifying, it would be a few months later, June of 1942 before the Japanese advance would be stopped at Midway, and the long campaign to Japan itself would be four more hard years away, but in April of 1942 the Japanese were invincible, the US navy was shattered and severely outnumbered. The Doolittle Raid would prove to both sides that the Japanese weren’t invincible, and it proved to the Japanese that the Home Islands were vulnerable, and forced them to change their deployments to protect them at the expense of weakening other places.
But on the night of the 11th the guys that I supervised dragged their bags in and we checked everyone had everything, and then we started the waiting game. All up and down the halls were pictures of the history of the squadron, including shots of bombers flying off of an aircraft carrier. Down the hall and across from the commander’s office was the ship’s bell from the USS Hornet. It was three months shy of being 60 years since Pearl Harbor, and a few of us old timers walked up and down the halls and let the history soak in a little.
Technically I wasn’t deployable, I was actually still on convalescent leave, but I felt plenty recovered and I wasn’t going to stay behind. I’m not sure exactly what I said the first time I was told I couldn’t go, but I’m told it was loud and profane and I didn’t repeat a single cuss-word in the entire tirade, and since I was talking to an officer I did put a ‘sir’ on the end of it. Long story short I did go, and I watched as the bombers left, loaded with bombs and afterburners glowing bright and the thunder of the engines shook the ground beneath my feet. I was standing beside the truck listening to the radios, one playing music, the other a 2-way maintenance radio.
When the first jet broke ground AC/DC’s song Thunder was playing, and the 34th was called the Thunderbirds. If that’s not an omen of good luck I don’t know what is. We wound up forward deploying on Christmas Eve, from one location to another much closer to Afghanistan, and even that day we launched aircraft at one location and recovered them at the other. One hundred and twenty days of continuous operations and we took everyone home that we left the states with, a few dings and bruises, and we were all tired of living in tents, but we all went home safe.
To me that’s more important as the amount of bombs that we dropped. I’ve gone to too many funerals in my time, in some cases there was no coffin for the family to give some sense of finality. Its hard enough to accept the loss, but a picture on a empty coffin covered with a flag is not consolation. There were many that didn’t have that sense of finality when the towers fell. Its like you never get the chance to truly say goodbye.
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