Twenty years ago, Jason Murley was not a lieutenant colonel stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Then just a sophomore and an ROTC cadet at Texas Christian University, Murley was walking through the student center when he saw “hundreds of people” huddled around a small TV, he said. Murley can remember watching the plane crash into the south tower of the original World Trade Center.
“There are few Americans who were alive on Sept. 11, 2001, that don’t remember the exact moment they became aware of the attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and the resulting crash in Pennsylvania,” Murley said.
That day, Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial planes. Two crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center; the towers collapsed from the damage. Another crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth, United Airlines Flight 93, was en route to Washington, D.C., but the passengers fought back, and the plane instead crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
As a result, 2,977 people died: 2,753 in the attacks at the World Trade Center, 184 at the Pentagon and 40 in the Flight 93 crash.
Murley, commander of the 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron, was the keynote speaker during a ceremony Friday at Fairchild’s fire department held in honor of those killed 20 years ago, as well as the 2,461 service members who died in the ensuing war in Afghanistan since 2001, including the 13 killed in the Aug. 26 bombing attacks at Kabul’s airport.
“We also rededicate ourselves, as members of the armed forces and our first responder community in attendance, that we stand ready to serve and defend others in times of need,” Murley said, “and we, as military service members, will stand ready to unleash the wrath of the American military upon our enemies, when called.”
Besides base personnel, members of the community who were invited attended the ceremony.
Like Murley, Charlie Duranona remembers exactly where he was 20 years ago: Miami, Florida, where he was opening an AT&T Wireless store. There was a line of customers at the door.
“We all stood frozen, looking at the TV,” said Duranona, outreach specialist at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane. “It upset me. It motivated me … I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself.”
Duranona enlisted in May 2002.
He served five years in the Navy, eventually graduating from college in 2014. Before working at the VA, Duranona was a national service officer for the Order of the Purple Heart, and later the military and veterans relations liaison for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
At the VA, Duranona said his job is to help find housing for homeless veterans.
“I mean, 9/11 changed my life because I joined the military, and it made my life where I’m at now, so I don’t know what my life would’ve been like if I wouldn’t have joined the military,” he said. “Even though it was such a horrible event, I think back and sometimes you have to look at the good things that come out of a bad situation. It just makes you who you are now.”