Friday, September 14th, 2001

We decided to try to get some sleep before we left the hotel, so we bedded down about half eight and set the alarm for twelve-thirty. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it never works, does it? Instead of feeling rested, I always end up feeling worse than if I’d just stayed awake while large men danced the flamenco on my skull.

Even though the bus picked us up at about one in the morning and delivered us to Elmendorf about ten minutes later, the rest of the night was another mind-numbing layover. We had to check our bags first. We had lots of bags, big ones, and to check them we had to drag them down sadistically long corridors before we finally got to drop them on the tarmac. Then we waited. I guess I assumed that, because the Air Force woke us up at midnight, we might be leaving shortly after that. It seems they just wanted to wake us up really early. We hung around for a while, then had a bite to eat, then watched a little television, and eventually I put my head down on a table and had a bit of a snooze, and after I woke up we STILL had to wait hours and hours. Our plane didn’t take off until seven in the morning. We nearly broke into applause.

leaving Anchorage | 6:22 am CDT
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: , ,
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Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

I think just about everybody will remember where they were the day the World Trade Center towers were attacked by raving whackos. We were at 35,000 feet somewhere over Alaska, just two hours into a nine-hour flight to Japan when the captain announced that we were being diverted to Elmendorf Air Force Base because of a “national emergency.” At first B and I were sure that was just an unfortunate choice of words. There was a menacing typhoon off the coast of Japan just the day before; we were sure this diversion was for something as boring as that. The pilot repeated the announcement when he got wind that somebody apparently thought there was a malfunction in the aircraft. Both times he sounded as casual as pilots usually do. I think the air traffic controller hadn’t yet told him the reason for the diversion, because when he finally broke the news to us, he didn’t sound calm at all.

When he came back on the public address to tell us that terrorists had crashed two planes into the World Trade Center towers and a third into the Pentagon he did not sound calm at all. He was very obviously shaken by this information, as I think we all were. Oddly, the news was all at once easily believable and yet utterly incredible. I remember the first time I saw the video of the first tower burning and thinking it didn’t look serious at all, just a lot of smoke and a bit of fire on the upper floors; then, the second jet appeared from the right edge of the screen, lazily swooped down to the second tower, and exploded. I’d already accepted that the rest of our lives were changed, but the heavy reality of it didn’t settle onto me until that moment.

The passenger terminal at Elmendorf was a huge warehouse of a place filled with wooden benches, almost like an old-time train station. Passengers flopped on the benches while a sergeant took roll, and then, in a surprisingly short time, the pax [passenger] terminal personnel managed the Herculean task of finding rooms for hundreds of people they weren’t expecting. They packed the single airmen off to the dorms, but they had to scramble to find hotel rooms for the families, and they pulled it off even though Anchorage was crawling with other grounded passengers desperately searching for rooms.

We ended up in an Econo Lodge in a low-rent corner of Anchorage, surrounded by car dealerships and parking lots, with no idea how long we’d be there. Rumor was we’d fly out the next day, but even the military was grounded until the FAA gave the green light, and one day dragged into the next. The first day we stayed in the room; the second, we held out until early afternoon before cabin fever drove us to walk around the downtown area a bit. There’s not much to see in downtown Anchorage, but we felt better for getting out into the fresh air and stretching our legs, if nothing else. The third day we took a long walk all around downtown, stopping for lunch in a sandwich shop having a long wander up side streets to see the different downtown shops. This didn’t take long. There really isn’t much there. I was surprised that Anchorage looked much larger from the air than I thought it was; from the ground, it turned out to be the one-horse town I’d always suspected it would be.

[10/20/14: Although this blog post was dated 9/11/2001, it was obviously written long after the fact. I didn’t start blogging until maybe October or November, so I probably wrote it then.]

nine eleven | 6:15 am CDT
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: , ,
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