9/11/01 began like any other day in Germany, but by late afternoon we knew something was different. I was called into the Commander's office where Helmut Haufe pointed at the large screen. All the news channels were reporting on a plane striking one of the Twin Towers. As we watched, the scenes in NYC, at The Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania, kept getting more and more horrific.
The 21st Theater Sustainment Command HQ sprung into action as it became clear this was a terrorist attack. We were in touch with friends and colleagues back in the states and found out we had lost comrades.
The General Support Center-Europe, where I worked, went into Alert Status and increased security immediately. Everyone reacted like the professionals they were. Members of the armed services, Department of Defense Civilians and thousands of German Nationals working for the U.S. Government all did their jobs and pulled long shifts without complaint.
Much of that day and the weeks and months that followed are a blur, but I will never forget the camaraderie of everyone involved. It was like we were all together and bound by our humanity.
All Americans worked together as did our friends and allies throughout Europe. Total strangers from every nation offered their condolences and help.
The people of the world stood with us. That's what I choose to remember. Not the terrorists or their ugly evil. I remember the innocents who died. The first responders who risked everything to help their neighbors. The locals who turned out immediately to hand out free coffee, food and water. The workers who dug frantically with whatever they had, including their hands, to rescue those buried. Those that went to ground zero for months risking their health. The passengers who fought and chose to go down with their plane rather than let the evil do more harm.
Our lives have changed forever, but we have not let the evil win. We have maintained our way of life and not given into the fear. We have continued to have an open society that serves as a beacon for those in more oppressive lands. We are still America. Still a tolerant democracy that values individualism. Home of the Free and the Brave.
That is the best way we can honor the memory of those lost.