Alex Martinez looked over his Air Force dress blues, the uniform he wore when he graduated from boot camp. He touched his insignia – a circle with a star in the center and a striped wing flaring from either side – that signified his rank of airman second class.Continue reading
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, LT Heather “Lucky” Penney of the District of Columbia Air National Guard and her squadron mate, Colonel Sasseville, were alerted about two planes that had just flown into the World Trade Center. As a third plane struck the pentagon, reports began circulating that a fourth plane, United Flight 93 out of Newark, New Jersey, was still out there as a threat. Air command speculated it was also headed to D.C. for another strike on the Pentagon, or a strike on the White House, or even the Capitol Building. With no time to load weapons onto their F-16 Fighter Jets, they both took flight, staying low in D. C. airspace in search of Flight 93. Their goal: with no weapons, they were to deliberately crash themselves into and destroy a Boeing 757 passenger aircraft, 7 times the weight of their small jets. Admittedly, it was a suicide “kamikaze” mission.
Once airborne, they agreed upon the plan of attack. Sasseville would head for the 757’s cockpit and Penney would aim for the plane’s tail. As they sped out beyond Andrews Air Force Base, flying low at about 3,000 feet, they could see black, billowing smoke streaming from the Pentagon. Finally, after an hour of desperately searching for flight 93, they received word that the aircraft had crashed landed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
Heather Penney is the true definition of grit. She donned her flight suit knowing full well that it was a suicide mission, but with the intent to prevent more destruction and loss of life of American citizens. This is what it means to serve, that at any time you might be called upon to lay down your life to save others.
Since that day, Heather Penney serve two tours in Iraq, was promoted to Major, retired and currently works for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company. She has had time to reflect on her experience on September 11, 2001—and the bravery of the passengers on Flight 93. “Joining the Air Force, I made a decision with my life and swore an oath to protect and defend my country. But the passengers on flight 93 didn’t, they were just everyday people, mothers, fathers, school teachers, businessmen,” Penney said. “They are the true heroes”.
As an example of how Americans pull together during a crisis in our country, we present to you the story of Danny O’Neel. This story was original written by Matt Fratus | September 10, 2020
Danny O’Neel served in the US Army from 2001 to 2008. He deployed twice to Iraq, most notably serving as a squad leader and forward observer in Sadr City. Nine of his soldiers were killed in Iraq and another 15 committed suicide when they returned. O’Neel’s mission today is serving as a peer mentor to other veterans at Project Healing Heroes as well as an ambassador for numerous surf therapy organizations. O’Neel, alongside his wife, Faun, are also Dole Fellows at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which empowers the caregivers of military service members.
“On 9/11 I was working for a highway construction company in Livermore, California. Normally I watched music videos on MTV while getting ready for work and I saw all the channels showing the World Trade Center on fire. I watched the second plane crash into the building. I sat in disbelief, and after a few minutes I called my boss to quit, informing him I was joining the military. While it was an impulsive decision, it was one of the best choices of my life.
“That morning as I sat on my bed watching the events unfold, I knew I had to do something. I was young, in shape, motivated, and feeling patriotic. I actually called the Marine Corps office several times thinking I know these guys get up early, where the hell are they? I found out later they had to go to MEPS for a safety briefing since the attack raised the threat level, and the other was on leave. It led to me calling the Army and talking with Corporal Thatcher. He asked if I knew what happened just to be sure I knew what I was getting into. I had no clue.
“When I first joined the Army I volunteered for every school, starting with airborne, then Ranger Indoctrination Program, and Air Assault. I wanted to be the best trained Soldier I could be and to meet the enemy as swiftly as possible. While my career path didn’t go how I envisioned, I was leading other men after 17 months in.
“I didn’t take the responsibility lightly, and tried to train my guys so that they could survive any environment. As a squad leader in war, you are directly responsible for the orders given to the men fighting, while you show them by example. It is the greatest honor bestowed upon a leader. While preparing for another deployment I was told I needed to go to mental health.
“The Army decided I was unable to perform in combat effectively, and I separated. I was angry and bitter for a while, because I thought I was ok. But I needed help, which I eventually got. I use my position as a leader to get others to reach out for help now. We were the most united country after that day, so I work to get back to that America.
“9/11 has impacted me every day since then. It changed the direction of my life, and continues to lead me to serve today. Despite the attack, I was so proud of our response, and the unity we showed as a nation. I had never felt a love for my country like I did that day and the following days. I have been to the 9/11 museum twice. I’m drawn to the people who died there, and want them to know that many people stood up for them. We may not be the greatest generation, but we are the greatest of our generation. When our nation needed us, we showed up in droves, and that makes me proud. September 11th reminds me of our resilience and ability to unify. We could use a little of both right now.”
Fratus, M. (2020, September 11). The Warrior Generation that Was Inspired by 9/11. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://coffeeordie.com/911-warriors/
By Braxton Wolfe
Sailors don’t talk about-
The culture shock of coming home from the ship and having to relearn how to be a part of society.
The moments you spend re-examining yourself in the mirror because you forgot what you really looked like out of the uniform.
The bruises, cuts and scars from working in the harshest environments and conditions.
Wearing normal clothes is the most comfortable feeling on earth. Even the jeans you barely fit into anymore.
Getting sick every time you come home because you are able to eat civilized food again and drink your favorite drinks.
Getting dressed with the lights on.
Amazed at how you lose so much weight without trying.
Having to sleep with a fan on because the room you are in now is too silent.
Suddenly being thankful for literally everything you own and experience in a normal day.
Showering without shoes on.
The water is a normal hot, and doesnt switch to ice cubes then to burning steam before losing pressure. And no water rationing hours!
Folding laundry while sitting on the bed.
General Quarters! Man your battle stations!
Not being able to sleep because we are catching jets and you have to make sure that you hear them catch the wire… retract. The pilot is safe.
Not being able to sleep because youre no longer in rough seas. The bed is still and the room isnt moving. Its quiet.
Man overboard. They didn’t say it was a drill this time. Everyone gets to their stations a little quicker to make sure their guys are good.
You probably don’t notice how often you hit your head anymore.
“Medical emergency in compartment…” silence. Do I know anyone in that compartment? I hope they are okay, nothing major.
I don’t remember the last time I was alone in a room for more than 10 minutes.
Fire, Fire, Fire!…. These things are always catching on fire.
Coming home in a different season. The grass is green now. They harvested all the corn fields.
Oh! She had her baby, bless her heart.
Wow. It’s been years…where was I?
“First call. First call to colors.”
Coming home from all of this is going to be so hard yet so easy.
US Army Specialist 4 John Walton, or as you may remember him, John Thomas Walton of the Walmart empire, was assigned to Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group or the notorious MACV-SOG back in 1968. He was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) 1 in Phu Bai, where members of Strike Team Louisiana conducted deep penetration reconnaissance missions. As a member of a Special Forces Reconnaissance Team, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Sp4 Walton was routinely conducting missions deep in hostile territory.
On August 3rd, 1968, in the A Shau Valley, his six-man recon team’s patrol was attacked by a numerically superior enemy force firing automatic weapons and grenade launchers. Surrounded and overrun by enemy NVA soldiers, the firefight became so intense that the team leader called an F-4 airstrike directly on their own position to break the contact. One of his team members was severely wounded and as the team’s medic, Sp4 Walton fought off the enemy while rendering life-saving medical treatment to the casualty. Later, when a grenade exploded inside the team’s defensive perimeter and temporarily incapacitated the team leader, Sp4 Walton assumed the job of directing airstrikes on the attackers. Although under constant and ravaging enemy fire, Sp4c Walton then administered aid to the casualties suffered as the battle continued.
Three rescue choppers were alerted to extract the group. The first to arrive was an H-34 KingBee rescue helicopter, piloted by South Vietnamese Airforce Captain Thinh Dinh, to pick up the most seriously wounded. Walton carried the wounded team members through continuing enemy fire to the waiting ship. Bullets clanged off the chopper and whizzed by their bodies. After loading it up and watching it successfully lift off under heavy gunfire, Walton was told over the radio that the second and third helicopters were not coming as the landing zone (LZ) was too overrun by the enemy (hot). Captain Thinh, after hearing of the cancellation of the other rescue ships, dove his chopper back down and landed it back to within mere feet of Walton, who was fighting for his life in the clearing. The last remaining team members climbed aboard while the enemy ran towards their helicopter, firing with automatic weapons. With the entire team loaded, the weight was too much to take off so Thinh lifted the back wheel off the ground and started rolling his helicopter downhill, gaining as much speed as possible. At the last possible moment, Thinh nursed the aging KingBee over the trees. Walton’s determination to get his teammates out of harm’s way earned him the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor. Specialist Fourth Class Walton’s gallantry in action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
John T. Walton died on June 27, 2005, when his custom-built experimental plane crashed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He was 58 years old. An investigation determined that loose flight control components were the cause of the fatal accident. Walton left behind a wife, Christy, and son, Lukas.
Though Walton’s name will always be immediately recognized as the heir to the Walmart empire (at one point, he was the 11th richest man in the world, worth an estimated $18.2 billion), his legacy is also forever tied to MACV-SOG. Two years before his unfortunate death, Walton chartered his private jet to pick up Thinh Dinh and his family, whom he had stayed in touch with after serving together over three decades prior. They reunited in Las Vegas, never forgetting the lasting bonds forged in war.
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