Thursday was a day of reflection across the country as people recalled exactly where they were 13 years ago when the attacks of 9/11 began. It's hard to imagine any story topping that of F-16 fighter pilot Lt. Heather "Lucky" Penney (see below).
On the Coast, firefighters talked about their memories, watching from their respective stations as their New York brethren rushed into action -- 343 of them never returned home.
Thursday, several groups across the Coast held 9/11 memorials. Keesler Air Force Base's 91st Training Wing held a touching ceremony. Several hundred airmen and military personnel turned out for the event, which included a moment of silence and a strong speech from Brig. Gen. Patrick Higby -- who delivered a similar speech the day before to Biloxi businessmen and women regarding terrorist attacks against the United States.
Every airman I talked to at the ceremony said they were inspired to enlist because of the 9/11 attacks. It's arguably the moment of our lifetime -- next to President Kennedy's assassination and the Challenger explosion -- where nearly everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news.
Scrolling on Twitter yesterday, I found what might be the most remarkable 9/11-related story I hadn't read before. Honestly, I'm a bit embarrassed I hadn't read " F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on Sept. 11" by Washington Post features writer Steve Hendrix in 2011. Penney recalling 9/11 gave me chills.
"I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot," the F-16 pilot told Hendrix.
Penney was sitting around a briefing table when the first two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.
"When it happened once, they assumed it was some yahoo in a Cesna," Hendrix wrote. "When it happened again, they knew it was war."
Penney's job was to bring down United Airlines Flight 93 at any cost. Equipped with no missiles or any type of ammunition, Penney would have had to crash her jet into the airliner had the passengers not brought it down over Pennsylvania.
"I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off," Penney told Hendrix. "If we did it right, this would be it."