What the local military said on 9/12/01
September 11, 2006
IN editor Duwayne Escobedo wrote this article on the local military’s response to 9/11 for the 9/14/01 issue:
A terrorist seizes a jumbo jet and flies it into an American landmark.Thousands die, millions grieve and revenge is served up cold while the world helplessly looks on.
If the story sounded familiar this week as America’s national tragedy unfolded on TV, it is because Tom Clancy wrote the script for this week’s real-life horror tale in his 1994 bestseller “Debt of Honor.”
But the Hollywood story became a sickening reality, as millions saw America’s symbols of financial and military power go up in flames.
Three planes and three shocking explosions later, monstrous trade towers crumbled to the ground while thick black clouds of smoke swirled around the New York and Washington skylines.
As the magnitude of the terrorist assault settled in, former warriors and ordinary citizens in the military stronghold of Northwest Florida called for American leaders to respond with a swift, crushing military blow against terrorist groups and states.
Former Navy Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman says the United States is a free society with open borders and should remain that way, despite calls for stepped up security at government buildings, airports, border crossings and other places.
“It’s very difficult to sit down at a table and figure out how to prevent this type of thing,” he says. “It’s frustrating. Dealing with religious fanatics is mind-boggling. They are going to the land of Allah feeling good about what they’ve done.”
Former Pensacola state attorney and Justice Department lawyer Mick Serrano heard “cannons” go off as he passed the Pentagon on a Northern Virginia highway after fleeing his Capitol office with thousands of others. The “cannons” he heard shook the Pentagon to its core. The Florida first congressional district office administrator and former Pensacola resident also called for military retaliation for the worst attack on the U.S. mainland in modern history.
“It was unbelievable,” Serrano says. “The thought crossed my mind that after the Pentagon the next target would be the Capitol or White House. The American people will definitely get behind the President to go out and annihilate the country or countries responsible. We have to send a clear signal that countries cannot harbor these kind of terrorists, or else they will pay a high cost.”
Former U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day says the “cowardly” attacks obviously cost millions of dollars and took several months of planning with four major airline cockpits apparently taken over.
“If they have the guts to strike at us right at our very heart, then we should strike back at their heart,” says the former Vietnam POW who resides in Fort Walton Beach.
“It should be so strong, they don’t ever want to try to do this again. A low-level nuke would not give me any heartburn.”
Hunt them down
Former Navy Adm. Maurice Weisner calls for the country to beef up its intelligence agencies to weed out any planned terrorist hits on American soil in the future.
“The targeting of 40,000 in New York, who have no association with the military, is a dastardly attack,” says Weisner, 83, of Pensacola. “This should be regarded just as seriously as Pearl Harbor. Our response should be swift, complete and not be a token act, but be severe and meaningful without question.”
President George W. Bush, who immediately vowed retribution and placed the U.S. military on its highest alert at home and abroad, echoed Admiral Weisner’s position.
“ Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts,” Bush told reporters at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Bush later told Americans that countries harboring terrorists would face the same fate as the terrorists themselves.
Meanwhile, bases in Northwest Florida from Pensacola Naval Air Station to Eglin Air Force Base were shut down to outsiders. Flights and other missions were suspended.
“Like the rest of the people in the United States, we are very shocked,” says Patrick Nichols, Pensacola NAS spokesman.
Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and a frequent visitor to friends in Northwest Florida, dispatched ships and aircraft for air defense, along with amphibious troops to the Washington and New York area.
“We have not seen an attack like this, certainly not since Pearl Harbor,” Natter says.
Act of war
Retired Navy Vice Adm. Tim Wright, former Chief of Naval Education and Training at Pensacola NAS, says watching the devastating scenes made his blood boil.
“It makes me very angry,” he says. “This kind of coordinated attack was perpetrated by a group of individuals and state or states. This isn’t some crazy with dynamite attached to his belt. We need an appropriate response. We cannot afford to let an attack of this enormous magnitude happen to our country without one.”
Local residents outside of the military shared Wright’s view.
James Brown, a 57-year-old Crestview resident, says Tom Clancy’s novel flashed through his mind.
“Terrorists apparently used that book as a guide,” said the electrical engineer, after learning all flights were canceled at the Pensacola Regional Airport. “Clancy gave them a roadmap on how to attack us. This is not an act of terrorism. It’s an act of war.”