Today is September 11. I can still see the images of the planes hitting the towers as clearly as if it was yesterday. Those images were played over and over that day and so many days after that. At first, I couldn't look away. But I was horrified. The first time I saw a plane hit, it felt like my breath was knocked out of me. I fell into a chair.
I was active duty in the Air Force, stationed in San Antonio at the time. I was an instructor. My class was half full of Air National Guardsmen from New York. No one could get through to their families for hours. It was agonizing to watch them not know what happened. It took a day, but everyone was able to get in touch with family.
Our base was already on high alert on September 11. The month before, an angry young man who had been discharged from the Air Force, left a bomb for my First Sergeant. She had received threats from him already, and because of that, she had been transferred to another squadron. The man came into my building and left the package bomb in a bathroom. One of my coworkers found the box and took it the base mail room. She opened it in her office. It was a small, shrapnel bomb. It was intended to do a lot of damage.
Her name is Janet McWilliams. She survived. She lost her left hand, most of the fingers on her right hand, most of her hearing and part of her sight. In 2010, she was the first woman in the US to receive a hand transplant. She survived and continued to be the awesome woman she was. She fought to stay active duty for as long as she could. She refused to let him win.
He was caught pretty quickly. He was in downtown San Antonio, just miles from the base. He was convicted too. He was mentally disturbed, but that's not an excuse. He blamed her for his discharge and went after her. He deserved the death penalty, but didn't get it.
He was first sentenced to life plus in prison. He keeps appealing and from what I can find, he doesn't seem to be reducing his sentence by much. I think he may be down to 90 years at this point. He will never make it out because every time he appeals, Janet goes to court too. She reminds the courts of the damage he did. I think as long as she does that, he will never get out of prison. Intentionally, the judge in San Antonio sentenced him the first time on September 11, 2002.
So I think of her when I remember September 11. I remember how resilient she was. I remember how resilient we all were. I think of how that changed our country for the better and worse. I wish we could back to before though. Every box left unattended makes me wary. I listen for planes to fall out of the sky. I'm not paralyzed by this fear, but it lurks in my unconscious. Beautiful clear days like today and that day aren't as beautiful as they were.
But I tell people I love them more. I make sure that people know I appreciate them. I guess that's all we can do.
Originally published on my other blog